Court: Rancher Must Pay Trespassers For Emotional Harm

October 06, 2011

TUCSON, Ariz. -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to review a case against a Southern Arizona rancher who once held a group of illegal immigrants at gunpoint. The justices let stand a lower court decision on the lawsuit and now he must pay $87,000 to the victims.

It was a vitriolic case, involving every issue surrounding illegal immigration, from the border to vigilantism to property rights.

In 2004, Arizona rancher Roger Barnett found a group of 16 illegal immigrants in a wash outside Douglas, Arizona, and held them at gunpoint. The victims said he had a large dog with him and threatened to shoot them and sic his dog on them if they tried to run away.

A jury later found him liable of inflicting emotional distress on the victims and ordered him to pay them.

When U.S. District Court Judge John Roll ruled that the case could go to trial, the judge received numerous death threats. He declined to press charges against those identified.

The judge was one of those killed Jan. 8 during the mass shooting in Tucson that left 5 others dead and 13 others injured, including Congresswoman Gabriel Giffords.

The Ninth District Court of Appeals ruled against Barnett when he sought to dispute the judge's ruling, saying he must pay the fines. For two years, Barnett resisted doing so, finally taking his case before the Supreme Court.

Among his arguments, he sought to establish that Judge Roll had made errors in his decision.

Marisa Bono is a lawyer with the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF) who represented the plaintiffs.

“The Supreme Court was essentially saying that the issues that he was presenting for review didn’t merit Supreme Court review,” she said.

Barnett has defended himself, saying he lowered his weapon once he realized the victims weren’t armed drug smugglers. But one of the victims said he had kicked her when she was on the ground.

No criminal charges were filed against Barnett.