Photo: Arizona Court Decision
Today, the Ninth Circuit’s ruled in Vicente v. Barnett, upholding an Arizona jury verdict against a vigilante rancher operating along the Arizona-Mexico border. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the jury’s decision that the vigilante was liable for assaulting a group of immigrants he found on public land. As a result of today’s ruling, the rancher will be forced to pay approximately $87,000 in damages.
The Ninth Circuit ruled that the rancher, Roger Barnett, was not entitled to claim self defense, because he admitted that none of the migrants he assaulted had threatened or attacked him. The Ninth Circuit also upheld the jury’s award of punitive damages against Barnett.
“We are very pleased with the Ninth Circuit’s verdict. Today’s ruling sends the strong message that vigilantes will not be tolerated in Arizona” stated David Hinojosa, MALDEF’s Southwest Regional Counsel and attorney in the case.
“This case was tried in Tucson in front of Chief Judge John Roll, who was tragically killed in the recent attack on U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords,” stated Nina Perales, MALDEF Director of Litigation. “We are pleased to have secured some justice for our clients, and to have preserved the ruling in a case in which Chief Judge Roll served so ably and fairly,” continued Perales.
Prior to Barnett’s attack, the plaintiffs had been resting on the ground near Douglas, Arizona. Barnett was armed with a gun – a semi-automatic .45 – and was accompanied by a large dog. He held the group captive, threatening that his dog would attack and that he would shoot anyone who tried to leave. During the encounter, Barnett kicked a woman as she was lying, unarmed, on the ground.
Today’s ruling marks the second successful case challenging Roger Barnett’s vigilante attacks along the border. In September 2008, the Arizona Supreme Court upheld a jury award of close to $100,000 in damages for a family of Latino U.S. citizens who were assaulted by Barnett on state-owned land. In that case, Barnett held the group at gunpoint with a semi-automatic military-style assault rifle, cursed and screamed racial slurs at them and threatened to kill them all, including two girls aged 9 and 11.
Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel stated “This decision vindicates constitutional guarantees for all. Even in Arizona, vigilantes do not have the right to harass and victimize peaceful migrants.”
The law firms of Freedman Boyd Hollander Goldberg & Ives P.A. and Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP participated as pro bono counsel on behalf of the plaintiffs.