Mixed Verdict Over Migrants’ Run-In With Rancher

Arthur H. Rotstein, AP, February 17, 2009

A federal jury on Tuesday rejected several claims by a group of illegal immigrants who claimed a southern Arizona rancher detained them at gunpoint, but found the rancher liable for assault and infliction of emotional distress.

The eight-member civil jury found that Roger Barnett didn’t violate the immigrants’ civil rights in 2004, and it rejected claims of battery and false imprisonment. For the remaining claims Barnett was ordered to pay $77,804 in damages–$60,000 of which were punitive.

Barnett declined to comment, but one of his attorneys, David Hardy, said the plaintiffs lost on the bulk of their claims and that Barnett has a good basis for appeal on the counts he lost.

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David Urias, attorney for the six Mexicans who sued, said his clients were disappointed, “but I think that overall this was a victory for the plaintiffs.”

Nina Perales, an attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, called it “a resounding victory that sends a message that vigilante violence against immigrants will not be tolerated.”

For more than a decade, Barnett has been a controversial figure in southern Arizona. He’s known for patrolling his ranch property and area highways and roads, often with his wife and brothers, on the lookout for illegal immigrants.

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Five of the plaintiffs are living in the U.S. with visa applications pending, and the sixth resides in Mexico but was allowed into the U.S. for the trial, Perales said. She declined to say where in the U.S. they’re residing.

Barnett’s lawyers argued that his land was inundated with illegal immigrants who left trash on his property, damaged his water supply and harmed his cattle. His 22,000-acre ranch, about five miles north of the Mexican border, includes private and federal lease holdings in addition to nearly 14,000 acres of state-leased land.

Barnett’s wife and a brother were dismissed as defendants; in addition, another 10 people initially named as plaintiffs were dropped from the proceedings.

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[Editor’s Note: An earlier story concerning this lawsuit can be read here.]

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