Douglas ranchers sued for violating illegal aliens’ civil rights
By Linda Bentley | February 11, 2009
‘Citizen of Pennsylvania’ is convicted drug dealer removed to Mexico
TUCSON – A jury trial is underway in U.S. District Court in Tucson over a complaint filed in 2005 by 16 illegal aliens against Douglas ranchers Roger Barnett, his wife Barbara and his brother Donald.
The case stems from a March 7, 2004 incident in which Barnett, 64, held a group of illegal aliens trespassing on his ranch at gunpoint until the U.S. Border Patrol could pick them up.
For the past ten years, Barnett has been attempting to protect his property from damage caused by trespassing aliens as they illegally enter the United States.
Barnett, who has turned over 12,000 illegal aliens to the Border Patrol since 1998, says illegal aliens have destroyed his property, cut his water lines, killed his calves, left piles of trash and drugs behind and broken into his home.
The complaint, which also names Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever as a defendant, was filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) on behalf of the illegal aliens and tells quite a different story.
MALDEF claims the Barnetts “have engaged in a private campaign and have conspired with each other and others to ‘hunt’ and detain against their will, and at gunpoint, Latino migrants or presumed migrants such as plaintiffs.”
The complaint asserts there have been numerous incidents involving anti-immigrant vigilantism in Cochise County over the past six years, including the incident on March 7, 2004, and states, “Plaintiffs were peaceably resting in a wash in or around Douglas, Ariz., when they were accosted by Roger Barnett, with the assistance of Barbara Barnett.”
It goes on to say Barnett pointed a gun at the plaintiffs, directed racial epithets at them, assaulted them, threatened attack by a vicious dog and detained them against their will and without legal justification.
MALDEF states Barnett’s actions were a violation of Arizona tort law, federal civil rights law and “were committed in furtherance of defendants’ unlawful conspiracy.”
The complaint continues by accusing Dever, “motivated by discriminatory animus,” of joining in the conspiracy by encouraging and permitting the Barnetts and other defendants to attack, harass, threaten and unlawfully detain Latino migrants.
The 16 plaintiffs are all Mexican nationals and primarily residents of Michoacan, although the complaint states certain individuals were “citizens” of Pennsylvania, Illinois or Georgia.
On Jan. 6, 2009 MALDEF filed a motion to preclude questioning, testimony or evidence regarding plaintiff Gerardo Gonzalez’s prior drug conviction and record of his removal from the United States, citing the evidence “is irrelevant to the factual and legal issues at hand and extremely prejudicial against the plaintiffs, including Gonzalez.”
Gonzalez was convicted in September 1993 for the possession for sale of a controlled substance and ordered removed to Mexico.
Although Gonzalez’s illegal reentry into the country after removal is a felony, MALDEF argues Barnett had no reasonable grounds to believe Gonzalez had been previously convicted of possession for sale of a controlled substance or that he had been previously removed to Mexico at the time he was detained by Barnett.
“Even if evidence of Gonzalez’s conviction and removal records is deemed marginally relevant,” wrote MALDEF, “it must still be excluded because it would result in unfair prejudice against all plaintiffs, including Gonzalez.”
While MALDEF acknowledged Gonzalez was previously ordered removed to Mexico and was committing a felony by reentering at the time of the incident, he was also one of the aliens which MALDEF referred to as a “citizen of Pennsylvania.”
MALDEF also filed a motion to exclude numerous photographs and a video depicting vandalism or transport of illegal drugs through the Barnetts’ ranch from evidence at trial, citing it did not involve any of the plaintiffs in this case.
While the complaint accuses the defendants of acting maliciously, oppressively and in reckless disregard of the plaintiffs’ rights, MALDEF attempted to ensure its clients were not portrayed in a bad light for “peaceably resting in a wash” while trespassing on the Barnetts’ property as they illegally entered the United States.
On Jan. 8, 2009, U.S. District Court Judge John M. Roll denied both motions.
In their prayer for relief, the plaintiffs ask that each be awarded actual damages against the defendants in the amount of $1 million and $1 million each in punitive or exemplary damages plus attorney’s fees and costs.
Arizona statute, however, now prohibits illegal aliens from filing for punitive damages in civil suits.
Last March, Roll denied the Barnetts’ motion to dismiss and stated there was sufficient evidence of a conspiracy, denying the plaintiffs their right to interstate travel and the Barnetts’ actions were motivated by race, to allow the matter to be presented to a jury.
The trial is expected to continue through Friday.
Photo by Linda Bentley: Over the past six years Roger Barnett says he has turned over 12,000 illegal aliens, found trespassing on his 22,000-acre ranch in Douglas, to the Border Patrol. A lawsuit filed against Barnett by 16 illegal aliens is currently before a jury, seeking $1 million each in damages for civil rights violations.