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A federal judge on Thursday tossed the case against an immigration agent accused of using excessive force.
Judge Dee Benson dismissed the alleged Fourth Amendment violation, regarding unreasonable force during search and seizure, against Jon Martinson Jr., without prejudice, meaning the case can be refiled.
Benson sided with one of Martinson's attorneys, Paul Cassell, that Martinson should have instead been held to the standards of the Eighth Amendment, which covers malicious and sadistic behavior.
"I appreciate the hard work of the defense. I feel vindicated by the judge's decision to dismiss the charges today," Martinson said in a prepared statement through Cassell.
Martinson was charged last June with deprivation of rights under color of law for allegedly impeding an inmate's right to "be free from the use of unreasonable force by a law enforcement officer."
According to the defense, three fellow Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were with Martinson as he escorted Fabian Maldonado-Pineda to another cell on July 3, 2013, and witnessed Martinson's "hip toss" that prosecutors deem constituted excessive force.
Prosecutor Carlos Esqueda had argued in a written filing that Maldonado-Pineda was more of a "pretrial detainee" than an inmate at the time. Esqueda claims Maldonado-Pineda had completed his sentence for his criminal case, and had been in ICE custody after a judge ordered that he be deported.
"... [He] was no longer an inmate serving a sentence and was not facing a punishment for a criminal conviction," Esqueda wrote. "Because the victim was no longer an 'inmate' and was seized pending a civil deportation hearing, his seizure fell within the 'other seizure' provision of the Fourth Amendment."
But on Thursday, Benson decided that Maldonado-Pineda was "unquestionably in a full-time, custodial" circumstance.
"I'm pleased Judge Benson has decided the case must be dismissed. It's important to emphasize the government had two years to decide the right legal standard to apply to this circumstance, and was unable to do so," Cassell said. "Agent Martinson had a split-second to make a decision, and was being improperly criminally prosecuted under this current indictment."
Esqueda said they intend to seek a new indictment against Martinson next week.
Benson's dismissal resolves the issue of whether Esqueda should have been recused from prosecuting the case. The defense had accused Esqueda of influencing witness testimony.
Specifically, they say he spoke to ICE agent Amanda Hall before she testified before a grand jury that ultimately indicted Martinson. In an evidence hearing at the federal courthouse Thursday, Hall admitted that she found Esqueda intimidating, but denied that she changed her grand jury testimony because of him.
Martinson's trial had been scheduled to begin Monday.