MALDEF Reports Progess in Anti-Vigilante Cases

Reprinted from the MALDEFian.

APRIL 9, 2008 – It did not take the Federal Bureau of Investigation Hate Crimes Statistics Report to tell us what we already know: attacks against Latinos and immigrants have been increasing at an alarming rate. Fringe border vigilantes along with extreme nativist activists have made violent acts and threats towards Latino and immigrant communities a frightening reality.

MALDEF court victories in two such cases are illustrative of what we are doing about it. Representing two sets of plaintiffs attacked by the same culprit, MALDEF successfully blocked border vigilante Roger Barnett, who attacked two groups of Latinos near his ranch in southern Arizona, from using the courts to shield himself from liability for his violent actions.

The Morales family and Emma English, a family friend, filed suit after Barnett confronted them on state leased land in October 2004, while they were on a family hunting trip. Armed with a semi-automatic military-style assault rifle, Barnett held the family at gunpoint, cursed and screamed racial slurs at them and threatened to kill them all.

The jury heard the testimony of three young girls, all under the age of twelve and U.S. citizens, who vividly described the event and the trauma they suffered at the hands of Barnett. The civil jury ultimately awarded the family $100,000 in damages.

Although Barnett and his attorney appealed the decision, the appellate court recently rejected his appeal and upheld the trial court’s ruling, forcing Barnett to file a petition for review with the Arizona Supreme Court.

Shortly before Barnett violently attacked the Morales family, he again assaulted a group of unarmed Latinos near a highway in March 2004.

Accompanied by his brother and his wife, Barnett forcibly rounded up the terrified group, including a young girl, and threatened them at gunpoint. During the assault, he kicked one of the women who was laying on the ground.

Barnett requested that the judge dismiss the case and MALDEF urged the federal court in Arizona to continue with a trial. Earlier this month, the court ruled in favor of MALDEF, finding enough evidence to proceed with a jury trial.

“Border vigilantes like Barnett should be tried and forced to compensate families for violations of their basic rights,” said MALDEF Staff Attorney David Urias, the lead counsel in both cases. “Barnett cannot avoid responsibility for his outrageous and offensive actions.”

Founded in 1968, MALDEF, the nation’s leading Latino legal organization, promotes and protects the rights of Latinos through litigation, advocacy, community education and outreach, leadership development, and higher education scholarships.

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