Chelsea Schilling is a commentary editor and staff writer for WND and a proud U.S. Army veteran. She has also worked as a news producer at USA Radio Network and as a news reporter for the Sacramento Union.More ↓Less ↑
Sixteen illegal aliens who sued an Arizona rancher, claiming he violated their civil rights and falsely imprisoned them by holding them at gunpoint on his property along the border, have lost their case.
Roger Barnett (photo: Southern Poverty Law Center)
The federal lawsuit against Douglas, Ariz., rancher Roger Barnett, his wife, Barbara, and his brother, Donald, took place before Judge John Roll in U.S. District Court. A verdict was declared Tuesday. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF, represented the five female and 11 male illegal aliens.
Barnett’s attorney, David Hardy, said the judge completely dismissed the cases against Barbara and Donald after the illegals claimed conspiracy.
“There was no evidence,” he told WND. “The most they could show about Barbara was that she showed up after the incident, and Donald wasn’t even there. He did sometimes cooperate with Roger in turning over illegals, but he wasn’t there that day. And there was no proof of conspiracy, so the judge chucked it out.”
Many of the aliens are residents of Michoacan, Mexico. Four live in Illinois, one resides in Georgia and another in Michigan. All of the plaintiffs currently living in the U.S. listed pseudonyms in the lawsuit due to “fear of adverse action based on immigration status.”
Ten of the illegal alien plaintiffs didn’t show up to the trial, but the remaining six said they were given permission to re-enter the United States and testify against Barnett.
“That was a shocker to me. All the ones who testified said that they were here legally and that their attorneys had done the paperwork,” Hardy said. “There’s nothing like your government backing you.”
Illegal aliens trudge through Barnett’s property
According to the complaint, Barnett, who owns 22,000 acres along the border in southeastern Arizona, approached the group of illegals on an all-terrain vehicle March 7, 2004. He allegedly began yelling at them in English and broken Spanish while aiming his gun at the group. While Barnett’s dog barked at the intruders, the illegal aliens accused him of ordering the dog to attack. One of the women said the rancher kicked her because she refused to get up. The jury ruled in favor of Barnett on the battery charge as well.
Barnett detained the trespassing illegals until Border Patrol agents arrived. The lawsuit claimed that the rancher never told the illegals they were trespassing and failed to post a sign notifying them that they were on private property.
MALDEF claimed the family attacked, harassed, threatened and held the illegals against their will, because they were motivated by racial and class-based discrimination. The complaint said the Barnetts allegedly caused the group “severe emotional and mental distress,” including fear, anxiety, humiliation, stress, frustration and sadness. Each illegal alien sued for $1 million in actual damages and $1 million for punitive or exemplary damages.
MALDEF and its attorneys lost track of three of the plaintiffs entirely, Hardy said. The organization hired nine attorneys for the illegal aliens. Three were from big commercial firms in New York City.
Border Patrol confiscates drugs illegals attempt to transport into U.S.
The group also flew a psychologist to Arizona from Chicago to testify that the illegal aliens suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“We don’t know where they’re getting their money, but it’s a lot,” Hardy said. “They dropped $19,000 on the psychologist for his examination and $150 an hour to show up for trial.”
He continued, “We tore him up pretty good, though. We tore up all of the other witnesses, too.”
The rancher was held liable for limited damages involving assault and emotional distress. Two illegal aliens were given $1,000 plus $10,000 in punitive damages each. Two more received $7,500, plus $20,000 in punitive damages each.
“It’s interesting since most of them don’t speak English, but they claim that Roger, who has almost no command of Spanish, was able to use full sentences like, ‘If you go, my dog is hungry, and he’s hungry for your butt,’” Hardy said. “Roger couldn’t put that sentence together.”
He said the judge left out one part of instruction to the jury that should have been included, and it will be the basis of their appeal.
“The law is skeptical of infliction of emotional distress because everybody gets their feelings hurt at times,” he said. “So one of the requirements was that whatever is done must be so severe that the average person would be physically disabled by the distress – suffer a complete mental breakdown. The judge wouldn’t put that in the instruction. That’s straight Arizona law.”
Also, two of the plaintiffs received $1,400, and two were awarded $1 each for assault. The term “assault” is legally applied when a person has simply put someone in fear of a harmful contact. According to the attorney, Barnett did carry a gun, but the judge did not include their self-defense argument in the instructions to the jury – another basis for appeal.
All together, the illegals received only $77,804 of the $32 million they requested – and Hardy believes that award will be thrown out in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
“It was 95 percent victory for us,” he said. “What they really wanted were the first two civil rights claims because if they got those, they got attorney’s fees. With nine attorneys working on the case, I’m sure their fees were $500,000 to $1 million.”
Roger and Barbara Barnett with Border Patrol while they detain illegal aliens on the family’s ranch
Meanwhile, Hardy said Barnett’s ranch is still a hotspot for illegals who want to get into the U.S.
“They all testified that they were going to pay $1,800 per head to get in,” he said. “It’s right on the other side of the border, across from Douglas, Ariz.
“A guy was telling us that he had seen these dusty cars in Mexico, and they would offer to take you across to the U.S.,” Hardy said. “One of them had written in the dust: ‘Barnett’s ranch.’”