Border Vigilantism Alleged in Ariz. Case

By Tim Gaynor
Reuters
Wednesday, November 15, 2006

BISBEE, Ariz., Nov. 14 -- A rancher accused of holding a Mexican American family at gunpoint went on trial in this southern Arizona town Tuesday in a case highlighting border vigilantism, rights groups said.

Roger Barnett is being tried at Cochise County Superior Court, 90 miles southeast of Tucson, in a civil suit brought by two local families seeking more than $200,000 in damages over an incident during a hunting jaunt two years ago.

Ronald and Renee Morales say their family was assaulted, battered and falsely imprisoned by Barnett during the deer hunting trip on Oct. 30, 2004. All are U.S. citizens of Mexican heritage.

In court documents, the family said Barnett loaded an assault rifle and leveled it at the group, then harangued and abused the couple, their two daughters and the daughter of another family also named in the suit.

Barnett, who runs a tow-truck company in the rugged corner of southeast Arizona, denies the allegations and says the family was trespassing on his land.

Numerous incidents of vigilante violence have been reported on the U.S.-Mexican border in recent years, including some Hispanic voters being harassed by men in paramilitary combat gear in Tucson during the Nov. 7 midterm elections. Rights activists say the Barnett case is particularly disturbing because the Moraleses are U.S. citizens. Ronald Morales is a veteran who served in the U.S. Navy for six years.

"This lawsuit demonstrates that border vigilante violence has not been limited just to immigrant men, women and children crossing the Arizona border," said Jennifer Allen, director of the Border Action Network.

"In this case, Mexican American girls, their father and grandfather were afraid they were going to be shot and killed by a man who boasts that he's detained more than 10,000 immigrants," she added.

The suit names two other plaintiffs, Edward and Ana English, Their daughter Emma was traveling in the car stopped by Barnett, along with the Morales's two daughters, Venese, then 11, and Angelique, then 9.

Barnett faces another suit brought by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund last year. It alleges that he held a group of illegal entrants at gunpoint on his property.

That suit asserts that he kicked an immigrant as she lay on the ground and threatened to set his dogs on anyone who tried to leave the area.

Barnett called the plaintiffs in that case "racist liars" and denied that the incident took place. The case has yet to be brought to trial.

Lawyers began jury selection in Bisbee Monday for the current trial, which is scheduled to continue into next week.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company