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Rick Bowmer, Associated Press
Jon Martinson Jr. leaves the federal courthouse following a hearing Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Salt Lake City.

SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge has thrown out charges against an agent accused of using unreasonable force with a man in custody for immigration violations.

Prosecutors charged U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Jon Martinson Jr. with violating Fabian Maldonado-Pineda's Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure.

But defense attorney Paul Cassell successfully argued that Martinson should have been charged under the Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment, which he said is harder to prove.

"Law enforcement officers have more latitude in supervising prisoners because of the inherent risk in a prison environment than they do on the streets when interacting with citizens," said Cassell, a University of Utah law professor.

U.S. District Judge Dee Benson agreed with Cassell's argument and dismissed the case without prejudice, meaning the government could file another indictment against Martinson.

The government contended Maldonado-Pineda was not a prison inmate and not subject to the higher cruel and unusual punishment standard.

Maldonado-Pineda was being held in an ICE detention center in West Valley City when the July 2013 incident occurred. He was charged with illegal re-entry to the U.S. after having been deported.

Prosecutors say Martinson without provocation slammed Maldonado-Pineda onto a concrete floor forehead first using a "hip-toss" while he was handcuffed and shackled.

Cassell said Maldonado-Pineda was disruptive in his cell and twice resisted Martinson's attempt to move him to an unoccupied cell, prompting the agent to take him down.

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