Court Denies New Hearing to Arizona Rancher Ordered to Pay Damages to Undocumented Immigrants Held at Gunpoint

A federal appellate court has denied a new hearing for an Arizona rancher who was ordered to pay nearly $90,000 in punitive damages to undocumented immigrants he confronted at gunpoint, his attorney said.

“We. . .got a rejection,” said the rancher’s attorney, David L. Hardy. “No reason given, and they don't have to -- just motion denied.”

The rancher, Roger Barnett, was ordered to pay the damages for the 2004 incident, in which the plaintiffs claimed that he approached them with his dog and said he’d shoot them if they tried to leave.

Barnett’s attorney, David T. Hardy, said that The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals court was wrong to uphold a lower court’s verdict ordering Barnett to pay damages because the decision had been based on a flawed impression of what occurred at the encounter between the rancher and the immigrants.

The court said that an Arizona law permitted a person to threaten to use – or actually use – physical force against someone else when that person believes it is necessary for protection “against the other’s use or attempted use of unlawful physical force.”

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But the court said that Barnett held them at gunpoint even after becoming aware that no one in the group of 16 men and women was armed, and so he could not use the argument of self-defense.

The plaintiffs said they had been traumatized by Barnett's harassment.

Hardy countered that Barnett put his gun away after realizing that no one in the group was armed, and after feeling he was not in physical danger.

He raised doubts about the plaintiff's contention that the immigrants had been left traumatized by Barnett.

"[The] plaintiffs had a psychologist, testifying that they suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which did seem rather fanciful, based on 10-20 minute experience," Hardy said. "Problem is, it's really easy to memorize the symptoms, repeat them back, and the psychologist has nothing to base his opinion on except a person's claims, which can't be disproven because only the person knows if they really had insomnia, a phobia of dogs, bad dreams, etc."

But the Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund, which represented the plaintiffs in the suit against Barnett, maintained that the rancher did not put his gun away and harassed the immigrants even after it was clear that his safety was not threatened.

"He pointed the barrel of the gun at every single one of those immigrants," said David Hinojosa, who was co-counsel in the case, to Fox News Latino last month. "He apparently didn't remember yelling racial epithets at the people, or making one lady break down to the point of crying and praying to be let go."

"The jury believed the immigrants, they didn't believe him," he said.

Hinojosa called Barnett’s motion for a rehearing "just a simple delay tactic for Barnett rather than just paying the debt."

MALDEF said the court rulings in favor of the immigrants sent the larger message that “vigilantes will not be tolerated in Arizona.”

Hardy said that Barnett’s frustration over the frequent illegal crossings by immigrants around his property represented a common exasperation by people who live near the U.S.-Mexican border over the out-of-control problem of illegal immigration.

“Whole areas of his land have been covered in trash” left behind by people crossing on it illegally, Hardy said last month to Fox News Latino. “Some are parties of illegal entrants, sometimes there are groups of 40 or 50. He has drug smugglers come through too. They take vehicles and plow through his fence.”

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Follow politics and immigration reporter Elizabeth Llorente on Twitter: @LlorenteLatino