SIERRA VISTA – A prosecutor said he will consider filing criminal charges against a Douglas rancher who confronted a group of hunters with an assault rifle after a civil jury found in favor of the hunters.
A jury in Bisbee on Nov. 22 ordered rancher Roger Barnett to pay $98,000 to two men and three girls he confronted while they hunted deer on his leased grazing land. Barnett is an anti-illegal immigration activist who claims to have detained more than 10,000 migrants in the past 10 years and turned them over to the U.S. Border Patrol.
The hunters accused Barnett of threatening to shoot them with an AR-15 rifle and using racial slurs, but he testified that he only took out the weapon because the men were armed and denied using racial comments. The jury found the two men partly responsible because they trespassed.
“It’s obvious that the civil jury saw something,” about Barnett’s actions, Cochise County Attorney Ed Rheinheimer said. “And so we’re going to take a good look at the jury’s findings.”
Rheinheimer had been criticized by hunter Ronald Morales, who said he asked the prosecutor to file charges but was rebuffed. Morales, his father, Arturo, his two young daughters and their friend were together when Barnett confronted them on Oct. 30, 2004. The men are U.S. citizens of Mexican descent who live in Douglas.
Rheinheimer said his office will review possible charges, but implied that they would be difficult to bring.
“There is a different standard of proof in a criminal case, and so we’ll have to look at that very closely,” Rheinheimer said. “You can’t have 50 percent of a criminal conviction.”
The jury’s trespassing finding also “plays quite prominently” in determining if Barnett acted criminally, Rheinheimer said. Arizona law allows property owners to threaten deadly force when confronting trespassers.
Neither Barnett nor his lawyer were immediately available for comment on Tuesday.