Ex-SEAL: Jesse Ventura got popped after popping off

  • Article by: DAN BROWNING , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 29, 2012 - 8:18 AM

In ex-governor's lawsuit, witnesses support account of bar fight.

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Former Gov. Jesse Ventura is suing a former Navy SEAL over an account of fight in a bar in California where friends had come to mourn a comrade.

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

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If former Gov. Jesse Ventura didn't like what Navy SEAL Chris Kyle wrote about him in his memoir, "American Sniper," he's going to positively hate what five fellow SEALs -- and the mothers of two of their fallen comrades -- have to say about him.

Kyle's friends and associates have rallied to his defense in a defamation lawsuit Ventura filed in Hennepin County in January. Ventura, whose real name is James Janos, sued over Kyle's portrayal of a bar fight he claims they had six years ago in Coronado, Calif.

Under the heading, "Punching Out Scruff Face," Kyle describes a confrontation with a "celebrity" who served in the military during the Vietnam War. He said Scruff Face winters in Baja California, opposed the war in Iraq and described the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as a "conspiracy."

Though he didn't name Ventura in the book, Kyle has acknowledged that Scruff Face is Jesse "The Body" Ventura.

Ventura denies Kyle's allegation that he prompted the alleged fight by saying that the SEALS "deserve to lose a few" in Iraq, or that Kyle "laid him out" at the bar during a wake for a fellow SEAL.

The lawsuit has been moved to federal court in St. Paul, where Kyle's attorney, John Borger, filed a motion Tuesday to dismiss two of the three counts as legally deficient. He said he plans to bring a separate motion for summary judgment on the remaining defamation claim as well.

In support of Tuesday's motion to dismiss claims of unjust enrichment and misappropriation of Ventura's likeness, Borger filed a handful of "declarations" from witnesses to the alleged bar fight who describe him as a "jackass" and his comments that night as "anti-American."

Borger describes Ventura in his motion as a "Navy veteran, ex-wrestler, ex-color commentator, actor, ex-mayor, ex-governor, outspoken conspiracy theorist, and frequent fanfaron of future prospects for public office." A fanfaron is a braggart, a swaggerer, a bully.

Ventura to have say in court

David Olsen, Ventura's attorney, said Tuesday he would respond in court and declined to comment further.

Kyle retired from the Navy in 2009. He served four combat tours in Iraq and elsewhere, and was awarded two Silver Stars, five Bronze Stars with Valor, two Navy and Marine Corp Achievement Medals, and one Navy and Marine Corps Commendation.

"The Navy credits me with more kills as a sniper than any other American service member, past or present," he said in a court filing.

Kyle said he and two co-authors wrote "American Sniper." "The events that happened in the book are true," he said. "I reconstructed dialogue from memory, which means that it may not be word for word. But the essence of what was said is accurate."

The witnesses' declarations generally agree with Kyle's description of the alleged fight at McP's Irish Pub in Coronado. Kyle and his friends were having a wake for Mikey Mansoor, a SEAL who threw himself onto a grenade to save his comrades and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

Eyewitness accounts

Debbie Lee, who lost her son, Navy SEAL Marc Lee, in Iraq, said the group was mournful and respectful. "It was not a belly-up-to-the-bar type of event," she wrote.

One of her son's SEAL teammates introduced her to Ventura, whom she found offensive. She said she heard him criticize the war and called President George Bush a jerk. Ventura could only talk about himself, she said. "He did not say he was sorry for my loss."

Bob Gassoff, the SEAL who introduced Lee to Ventura, said the former governor wore a beard braided into pony tails and a blue SEAL team hat. "He was badmouthing the war and President Bush. He was upsetting the families of deceased SEALs," Gassoff said.

Andrew Paul, a reservist Navy SEAL, said he notified Mansoor's family about his death and helped carry his body off the plane.

"I grew up watching [the movie] 'Predator' and professional wrestling. I thought it would be cool to meet 'The Body,'" he said.

But Ventura's behavior that night revolted him, Paul said. "He was saying the wrong things in the wrong place at the wrong time. In my opinion, he was being as anti-American as you can possibly get. Now, he would probably argue that he was being very American by challenging the government, but for a bunch of guys who had just laid their lives on the line for their country and who were at a wake for their fallen comrade, he's lucky the punch to the face is all he got."

Most of those swearing out declarations said they didn't see Kyle hit Ventura, but claim they saw the commotion and the aftermath as Kyle took off and Ventura clambered up from the ground with blood on his face.

Jeremiah Dinnell, an active-duty SEAL, was the exception.

"I heard Ventura say that we shouldn't be over in Iraq, doing what we were doing," he said. "And then he said that the SEALs deserved to lose some guys because of what we were doing.

"That's when Chris punched him. All of us wanted to. Chris was just the first one to pop him."

Dan Browning • 612-673-4493

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