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Judge tosses case against immigration agent accused of slamming man's face into floor

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SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge has tossed out a case against an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent accused of slamming a man's face into a concrete floor, ruling the treatment wasn't unreasonable for an inmate in custody.

Lawyers for Jon Martinson Jr. argued that the man's chest hit the floor when the agent used a common tactic in June 2013 to control an aggressive inmate awaiting deportation at an ICE facility in West Valley City.

U.S. District Judge Dee Benson ruled Thursday that the so-called hip-toss was legal because Fabian Maldonado-Pineda was a prisoner at the time. Authorities generally have more legal latitude in using force to keep control of potentially dangerous inmates in prisons, said defense attorney Paul Cassell.

The case could be refiled. Federal prosecutors say Maldonado-Pineda suffered serious injuries, and Martinson violated both federal law and the man's constitutional rights.

Melodie Rydalch, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office of Utah, said Friday that prosecutors are weighing their options.

U.S. Attorney's Office Prosecutor Carlos Esqueda argued that Maldonado-Pineda had completed his criminal sentence and was only in ICE custody because a judge had ordered him returned to Mexico, so he shouldn't have been treated like a prisoner.

Martinson wants to be reinstated as an agent, said defense attorney Jeremy Delicino.

It's unclear if that will happen. He was suspended indefinitely after the criminal case was filed and officials are now reviewing the decision to determine the appropriate next steps, said ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice. He joined the agency in October 2011.

Martinson had been scheduled to go to trial Monday. He said in a statement that Thursday's decision vindicates him.

"He's relieved to know he didn't do anything wrong. He made a split-second decision he believed was necessary for the safety of himself, the safety of his fellow officers and the safety of the correctional facility," said Delicino.

If Martinson is indicted again, prosecutors will have to clear a higher legal hurdle and show the treatment was malicious and sadistic under the Eighth Amendment, he said.

Prosecutors say that video shows Maldonado-Pineda was placed in his cell without incident. He was shackled with leg irons, belly chain and handcuffs when Martinson performed the hip-toss without provocation and suffered serious injuries to his forehead, nose and mouth, according to the prosecution.

But Martinson contends that the incident occurred after Maldonado-Pineda refused to follow rules and was being disruptive to other inmates, according to court documents. Maldonado-Pineda pulled away from Martinson repeatedly as Martinson tried to remove him from the cell, causing the agent to do a hip-toss on the man, his attorneys say.

Maldonado-Pineda suffered only minor injuries, they allege. Maldonado-Pineda was in custody and charged with illegal re-entry to the U.S. after having been deported.

The dismissal of the case was first reported by The Salt Lake Tribune.

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