05/29/2003

Migrants, Attacked on Texas Ranch, Sue Vigilantes for Violent Assault

HEBRONVILLE, Texas -- Migrants attacked by a vigilante group as they traveled through south Texas have filed a civil suit in state court here against Ranch Rescue, its national spokesman Jack Foote, Jim Hogg County ranch owner Joseph Sutton, and others. The plaintiffs claim that they were violently assaulted, falsely imprisoned and threatened with death in a March incident on the Sutton ranch. The suit seeks money damages.

The lawsuit, Leiva et al. vs. Ranch Rescue et al. was filed May 29 on the plaintiffs' behalf by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the law firms of Ricardo de Anda of Laredo and John Judge of Austin.

Ranch Rescue's actions have been denounced by local law enforcement agencies. Two of the lawsuit's named defendants face serious criminal charges in connection with the assault.

"The actions of Ranch Rescue and its volunteers are very similar to other hate groups that we have sued in the past," said Morris Dees, Center chief trial counsel. "We see this as an important case to stop this violent paramilitary activity along our borders with Mexico. If these groups and the ranchers who conspire with them have to pay through their pockets, they will think twice before attacking innocent and peaceful migrants."

MALDEF is a national nonprofit organization that promotes and protects the rights of Latinos through advocacy, community education and outreach, leadership development, higher education scholarships and when necessary, through the legal system. The de Anda Law Firm and Judge and Brim are plaintiff firms with extensive experience in trial work in South Texas.