A jury in Minnesota awarded $1.845 million in damages Tuesday to former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, deciding that he was defamed by the late Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle who said he punched Ventura out in a bar in 2006 after the former governor said the SEALs “deserved to lose a few” in war.
The news emerged after six days of deliberations in St. Paul, Minn. The award includes $500,000 in defamation damages and $1.345 million for “unjust enrichment,” according to the Star-Tribune of Minnesota. “Unjust enrichment” is typically awarded in cases in which the court finds that one person has unjustly or by chance made money at the expense of another, requiring restitution.
As outlined in this Checkpoint post, the case got its start when Ventura sued Kyle, who is billed as having the most confirmed kills by a sniper in U.S. military history. Kyle wrote in his 2012 book, “American Sniper,” that he punched out a celebrity while mourning the death of Navy SEAL and future Medal of Honor recipient, Master at Arms 2nd Class Michael Monsoor.
Kyle did not identify Ventura by name in the book, but said that he swung at the individual after he “started running his mouth about the war and everything and anything he could connect to it.” That included President George W. Bush and deployed SEALs, who “were doing the wrong thing, killing men and women and children and murdering,” the man said, according to Kyle’s book. Ventura said the whole episode was fabricated.
Kyle, who was shot to death in 2013 in Texas, alleged that he tried to get the man — identified only as “Mr. Scruff Face” — to keep it down, and he responded by saying the SEALs in the bar “deserve to a lose a few.” The man eventually took a swing at him, Kyle alleged, and all hell broke loose.
“Being level-headed and calm can last only so long,” Kyle said in his book. “I laid him out. Tables flew. Stuff happened. Scruff Face ended up on the floor.”
Kyle later said in media interviews while promoting his book that “Scruff Face” was Ventura, who served in the Navy’s Underwater Demolition Teams during the Vietnam War era. The first SEAL teams were created from UDT personnel in the 1960s, with the remaining UDT units redesignated as SEAL Delivery Vehicle Teams in the 1980s.
Legal experts had anticipated that it would be a tough case for Ventura to win. But the jury found in his favor 8-2, media reports said. Ventura’s lawyer, David B. Olsen told reporters after the verdict was read that there were no winners in the case.
“We don’t know what others may think, but certainly with this generation of young SEALs, we don’t know that his reputation can ever be repaired,” Olsen said, according to media reports.
UPDATE: July 29, 4:35 p.m.: Reaction on Twitter to the news is extremely emotional, especially from those reflecting on the sadness of Kyle’s widow, Taya, being forced to pay damages to Ventura. Some examples:
Yes, taking a million from Chris Kyle’s widow will definitely restore your good name with the mil…I can’t even finish it.
— Sarah Stevenson (@sarahrstevenson) July 29, 2014
— Jackie Wellfonder (@Wellfonder) July 29, 2014
On the other side, there are individuals who think Ventura is entitled to his money:
@GovJVentura Glad to hear you won your lawsuit. Justice prevailed!
— Adam Harris (@AdamHarrisMPA) July 29, 2014
A general search of the terms “Chris Kyle” and “Jesse Ventura” on Twitter shows that reaction is overwhelmingly in Kyle’s family’s favor.
Also on Checkpoint about the case: