- The Washington Times - Friday, February 13, 2009

One of the 16 illegal immigrants allowed by a federal court to sue an Arizona rancher for stopping them at gunpoint after they sneaked across the U.S.-Mexico border is a convicted felon deported from this country after a 1993 arrest by U.S. authorities on drug charges, court records show.

Gerardo Gonzalez, described in a lawsuit brought by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) as a 38-year-old Mexican citizen, was convicted in September 1993 for possession of a controlled substance for sale and ordered deported to his home country.

Gonzalez, whose illegal re-entry after removal under U.S. law would be another felony, is among five women and 11 men detained by Roger Barnett, owner of the Cross Rail Ranch near Douglas, Ariz.

The trial against Mr. Barnett on charges of civil rights violations began last week before U.S. District Court Judge John M. Roll in Tucson and is expected to conclude Friday.

Asked about Gonzalez, MALDEF spokeswoman Laura Rodriguez in Los Angeles said Thursday night that a gag order had been issued in the case and she could not comment.

MALDEF had sought Jan. 6 to preclude questioning, testimony or evidence regarding Gonzalez´s drug conviction and his removal from the U.S., saying it was “irrelevant to the factual and legal issues at hand and extremely prejudicial.”

Attorney Victor A. Rodriquez also sought to exclude at trial the numerous photographs and a videotape depicting vandalism and the transportation of illegal drugs through the Barnetts´ ranch. He said the photos and video did not involve any of the plaintiffs in this case.

On Jan. 8, Judge Roll denied both motions.

The lawsuit seeks $32 million for civil rights violations, the infliction of emotional distress and other accusations - $1 million actual damages and $1 million punitive damages for each of the illegal immigrants.

Also named are Mr. Barnett’s wife, Barbara, his brother, Donald, and Larry Dever, the sheriff in Cochise County, Ariz., where the Barnetts live. The trial is based on a March 7, 2004, incident in which Mr. Barnett approached a group of illegal immigrants while carrying a gun and accompanied by his dog.

The lawsuit said the Barnetts “engaged in a private campaign and have conspired with each other and others to ‘hunt’ and detain against their will, and at gunpoint, Latino migrants or presumed migrants such as plaintiffs.”

It also said Mr. Barnett committed assault and battery, falsely arrested and imprisoned the 16 illegal immigrants, acted negligently, inflicted emotional distress and “engaged in a conspiracy to deprive plaintiffs of their civil rights.”

But in a statement of facts filed with the court, Mr. Barnett’s attorney, David T. Hardy, said his client’s 22,000-acre ranch is frequently crossed by illegal immigrants and drug smugglers and that Mr. Barnett was checking for damages when his dog started barking and ran off into the desert. He said Mr. Barnett followed the dog and came across a large group of people “apparently trying to hide.”

“Since drug smugglers are frequently armed, I drew my handgun,” Mr. Barnett said in an April 18, 2007, deposition. “I holstered it after assuring myself they were not armed. I then called Border Patrol on my cell phone, and my wife, Barbara, on my radio, and waited until Border Patrol arrived and took them into custody.”

A March 2007 deposition of Border Patrol agent Manuel Rodriquez found that after agents ran a records check of those detained on the Barnett ranch, other members of the party had made prior attempts at illegal entry.

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