Jury: Rancher did not violate Mexicans' rights
Jerry Seper (Contact)
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
A federal jury on Tuesday ruled that an Arizona rancher did not violate the civil rights of 16 Mexican nationals he detained at gunpoint after they had snuck illegally into the United States in 2004, but the jury awarded $78,000 in actual and punitive damages to six of the illegal immigrants on claims of assault and infliction of emotional distress.
After a nine-day trial, the eight-person jury -- four men and four women -- returned the verdict Tuesday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Tucson, Ariz., after a day and a half of deliberation, also tossing charges of false imprisonment, battery and conspiracy against Douglas, Ariz., rancher Roger Barnett. Most of the award, about $60,000, was for punitive damages.
Mr. Barnett's attorney, David T. Hardy of Tucson, described the decision as an "80 percent victory," adding that he wished he and his client "would have gotten the other 20 percent." But he said he would appeal the decision, citing what he called "solid grounds." He also said U.S. District Judge John M. Roll had been "scrupulously fair" during the landmark trial.
Mr. Barnett owns the Cross Rail Ranch near Douglas, Ariz., where he maintains cattle on 22,000 acres of private and leased land. A $32 million lawsuit, brought by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), sought damages for civil rights violations and the infliction of emotional distress. It also accuses Mr. Barnett of assault, battery and false imprisonment.
Also named were Mr. Barnett's wife, Barbara, and his brother, Donald, although the jury dismissed the allegations against both the wife and the brother.
The trial was based on a March 7, 2004, incident in which Mr. Barnett approached a group of illegal immigrants while carrying a gun and accompanied by his dog.