Jurors in Texas have awarded $600,000 to former Hennepin County Sheriff Richard Stanek, who sued for injuries he suffered during a physical clash with a onetime FBI agent who promotes a view that Muslims are a widespread danger in U.S. society.
The verdict in Dallas County District Court came late Friday afternoon after an eight-day trial and two days of deliberation by jurors who weighed the evidence presented in connection with Stanek's altercation with John Guandolo on June 28, 2017, in Reno at the Atlantis Resort and Casino during a National Sheriffs' Association conference.
Guandolo, a retired Marine who resigned from the FBI in 2008 and lives in Dallas, founded Understanding the Threat in 2012, a consulting firm that is "dedicated to providing strategic and operational threat-focused consultation, education, and training" for law enforcement, according to its website.
He has come under fire in recent years for his anti-Muslim views. He once accused former CIA Director John Brennan in a radio interview of secretly converting to Islam. In October 2016, he wrote a post titled "In This War Minnesota's Twin Cities Are Lost" that was critical of local officials, calling out Stanek by name.
"I felt it was important to stand up to John Guandolo and Understanding the Threat and their agenda of intolerance," Stanek said in a statement released by his law firm after the verdict. "We should always be able to engage in civil discourse, even the most difficult or sensitive topics without resorting to violence."
As recently as late August, Guandolo was using Stanek's legal action as a fundraising tool, going to YouTube in appeal for money to defend himself against what he called "a frivolous civil lawsuit brought against them by Richard Stanek, the former sheriff of Hennepin County Minnesota (Minneapolis) — Ilhan Omar's [congressional] district."
Messages were left Monday with Guandolo and one of his attorneys seeking reaction to the verdict and whether an appeal was being considered. Stanek declined to say anything beyond the statement his attorney released.
While still in office, Stanek agreed to meet Guandolo during the sheriff's conference. Afterward, "Guandolo assaulted Stanek by violently shoving him and punching him in the face," read the suit, filed in late May 2019.
Casino video surveillance showed Guandolo throwing two punches — it appears the second one landed — at Stanek in the lobby with others seated with them.
"This assault ... aggravated/exacerbated Sheriff Stanek's prior injuries and/or caused him significant bodily injury," the suit alleged. "Sheriff Stanek incurred significant medical expenses and [as of the date the suit was filed] has not fully recovered."
The confrontation caused "significant worsening" of neck injuries the 57-year-old Stanek suffered earlier and required major surgery, his law firm said.
Stanek, sheriff for 12 years until he narrowly lost his re-election bid in November 2018, sued for $1 million in damages to cover his medical expenses, physical pain and "severe emotional distress," the filing read.
While the jury came up $400,000 short of what Stanek was seeking, "We are satisfied with the jury's verdict," said lead trial counsel Peter Kraus. "Sheriff Stanek had the courage to stand up to hatred, and we are gratified that a Dallas jury backed him up."
Kraus, along with Chris Johnson of Waters Kraus & Paul and Lisa Blue of Baron and Blue, represented Stanek.
Prosecutors in Nevada rejected Stanek's pursuit of charges stemming from the encounter. The Washoe County District Attorney's Office cited conflicting statements and other uncertainty about video and audio evidence for being confident of a conviction. The legal requirement for a criminal case is higher than for plaintiffs to win a lawsuit.
In August 2017, a Hennepin County judge granted a restraining order against Guandolo on Stanek's behalf. Stanek's petition for the order claimed that Guandolo called Stanek a vulgar name and punched him in the face.