St. PAUL -- More former Navy SEALs testified that they saw parts of a confrontation between Jesse Ventura and Chris Kyle at a Coronado, Calif., bar - including the most direct account yet of a punch Kyle claims leveled the former Minnesota governor.
Ventura sued Kyle over a story in the 2012 best seller “American Sniper.” Kyle, a decorated SEAL sniper, wrote that he slugged a celebrity dubbed “Scruff Face” in the bar in 2006 after the man bad-mouthed fallen soldiers at the wake of a slain war hero.
Kyle later identified Scruff Face as Ventura in promotional interviews. Ventura sued, saying Kyle made up the story and shredded his reputation. The author was fatally shot in Texas in 2013; Ventura is continuing the lawsuit, now on trial in federal court in St. Paul, against Kyle’s estate and widow.
Other witnesses have said they saw Ventura get hit, on the ground or getting up with a bloodied lip. They’ve also said they heard the former Minnesota governor making politically charged remarks that rubbed them the wrong way.
The witnesses were at McP’s bar that night for the wake of Michael Monsoor, a SEAL who died in 2006 after he threw himself on a grenade in Iraq to save his comrades. Ventura, a former Navy Underwater Demolition Team member, was there too for a reunion with his classmates. The Underwater Demolition Teams have since been merged into the SEALs.
Jeremiah Dinnell, a former SEAL, was part of the group at the wake. Dinnell said he bought a beer for Ventura and offered it to him. Ventura turned it down, saying he didn’t drink because of blood-thinner medication.
Later, Dinnell said he and others heard Ventura going on a tirade against the war in Iraq. He thought Ventura would be savvy enough to know the crowd - which included family members of slain SEALs - didn’t want to hear that.
But “he didn’t care,” Dinnell said. “It was about him.”
Dinnell offered the strongest backing heard in court to date of Kyle’s story: As he was moving between bars, he said, he saw Ventura take an aggressive stance and say SEALs deserved to lose a few men in Iraq. Then Kyle hit him and Ventura went down, Dinnell testified.
That’s the essence of how Kyle described the punch in the book. Dinnell said the encounter he witnessed lasted “maybe 10 seconds.”
David Olsen, one of Ventura’s attorneys, pressed Dinnell on discrepancies between testimony Dinnell had given in an earlier deposition and what he said on the stand Wednesday. Those ranged from the time he arrived at the bar to whether he had a conversation with Ventura to whether he saw Ventura hit the ground after the punch.
The tactic became contentious; defense attorneys objected that Olsen was picking at testimony that wasn’t contradictory. U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle, no relation to Chris Kyle, at one point directed Olsen to “either move on to something substantive or let this witness go.”
Olsen also tried to ask Dinnell if he’d curtailed his drinking that night because he’d gotten in trouble before. Judge Kyle shut down that line of questioning.
Differences linger among witnesses on where and when the alleged punch took place. Some have said it took place on the McP’s patio; others place it on the nearby sidewalk. Dinnell seemed to say in his deposition he saw it on the patio, but said Wednesday it happened on the sidewalk.
Jurors heard the testimony of two other former SEALs Wednesday. In court, Guy Budinscak recalled seeing a commotion at McP’s and hearing the same night that Kyle had punched Ventura.
Budinscak, who was one of Kyle’s superior officers during one deployment to Iraq, recounted introducing an injured soldier to Ventura at the bar earlier that night. It was Ryan Job, a SEAL who’d been blinded when a sniper’s bullet struck his weapon near his face.
Budinscak didn’t remember Ventura taking an interest in Job or asking for his story.
Instead, “I felt like Jesse was just kind of talking about himself,” he said - and veering into political topics and issues like Sept. 11 conspiracy theories. Budinscak said he was disappointed.
Kevin Lacz, another SEAL who served with Kyle in Iraq, recalled an even stronger reaction from Job after the meeting.
He said “f-- that guy,” Lacz said. His testimony came in video from a deposition taken before the trial.
Job died in 2009 unexpectedly after facial reconstructive surgery. His mother, Debbie Job, testified Wednesday. She didn’t see the fight, but was at McP’s and heard about it right afterward.
Ventura’s attorneys have suggested the story was cooked up later in the evening at another bar among SEALs who were drinking heavily. That wasn’t the case, Job said.
Budinscak said he noticed a commotion at one point, and saw Ventura leaving looking as if he had just been in a fight. Others were either holding Ventura back or propping him up, he said.
Lacz said he saw Ventura getting up off the ground and Kyle leaving the scene.
Both men were asked about drinking at the wake - an event that Lacz said included “a copious amount of alcohol.” Budinscak said he wasn’t drunk; Lacz said he might have been.
Both were also interviewed by Jim DeFelice, Kyle’s “American Sniper” coauthor, to provide material for the book. Olsen asked Budinscak if the final version took liberties with the stories he told.
There were some changes, Budinscak said, but the accounts in the book weren’t false.
DeFelice is scheduled to testify Thursday, along with Kyle’s publicist and a publishing executive involved with the book.
The story of Kyle punching Ventura traveled among SEALs, Budinscak said - sometimes with differing details. But it was far from their primary topic of conversation, he said.
“That was a crazy night,” he said, “but SEALs have a lot of crazy nights. There are better stories, sorry to say.”
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.