08/19/2005

Immigrants Win Arizona Ranch

DOUGLAS, Arizona -- Two Salvadorans illegally detained and assaulted on a Texas ranch as they crossed the United States border two years ago now own 70 acres that belonged to one of their attackers.

Fatima Leiva and Edwin Mancia have taken title to the property in connection with a Center lawsuit in which the pair claimed its owner, Casey Nethercott, illegally detained and assaulted them as they traveled through Jim Hogg County in south Texas.

The case dates to 2003, when Texas rancher Joe Sutton invited the vigilante group Ranch Rescue to his property to repel Latinos who regularly cross his land. In March of that year, Levia and Mancia were among a group of immigrants traveling on foot when members of Ranch Rescue captured and detained them. During their detention, Nethercott, struck Mancia on the back of the head and allowed his rottweiler to attack him.

Nethercott's Arizona property, known as Camp Thunderbird, was Ranch Rescue's headquarters.

"It is poetic justice that these workers now own this land," said Center founder and chief trial counsel Morris Dees. "This sends a strong and important message to those who come to the border to use violence."

In May 2003 the Center, along with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and local attorneys Ricardo de Anda and John Judge, filed a lawsuit claiming that Leiva and Mancia were illegally detained and assaulted.

In April the Center obtained a pair of judgments totaling $1 million against Nethercott and Torre John "Jack" Foote, Ranch Rescue's leader. Those awards came six months after a $350,000 judgment in the same case and coincide with a $100,000 out-of-court settlement with Texas rancher Sutton.

The property seizure is similar to those in previous Center cases. In 1987 the headquarters of the United Klans of America were awarded to Beulah Mae Donald, the mother of Michael Donald who was lynched by members of the group in 1981. The Center has also managed to seize property from the Aryan Nations and the White Aryan Resistance.

Dees said Ranch Rescue bore many similarities to other hate groups.

"Ranch Rescue's actions and the rhetoric of its members were very similar to those of hate groups we have seen in the past," Dees said.

Foote, Ranch Rescue's president and national spokesman has described Mexicans as "dog turds" who are "ignorant, uneducated and desperate for a life in a decent nation because the one [they] live in is nothing but a pile of dog [excrement] made up of millions of little dog turds."

Center staff attorney Kelley Bruner said that Mancia and Leiva do not intend to live on the property, and will likely sell it. In 2003 Nethercott, who also supported the Minuteman Project earlier this year, purchased the ranch for $120,000. Mancia and Leiva are applying for visas to live in the United States available to victims of certain crimes who cooperate with authorities. They are allowed to stay and work in the United States on a year-to-year basis until a decision is made on their visa applications.

In addition to the legal settlements, the case has led ranchers like Sutton to be more cautious in their approach to immigrants on their property. Sutton told a local newspaper that he is less willing to take matters into his own hands now because of the legal ramifications.

Nethercott is currently serving a five-year sentence for being a felon in possession of a firearm. Center staff worked closely with Texas prosecutors to obtain the conviction.