The Minuteman Protection Program: Activist acquitted in fight with day laborers

September 27, 2007 @

Posted by: Admin on Thursday, September 27, 2007 – 10:49 AM PST

By TERI FIGUEROA
Staff Writer
Monti cleared on all charges related to brawl

A jury on Wednesday acquitted an anti-illegal immigration activist accused of beating up day laborers and shouting racial slurs during a brawl at a makeshift hiring site in Rancho Penasquitos (San Diego, Ca) in November.

John Matthew Monti, 36, was cleared on all charges, including three battery counts, three hate-crime counts, and one count of filing a false police report. The jury deliberated more than a day before reaching its verdict.

“I feel good,” Monti said after the verdict, which was read in a San Diego courtroom late Wednesday. He said he would return tomorrow to his job as a sixth-grade bilingual schoolteacher in East Los Angeles.

The case highlighted seething tensions between anti-illegal immigration activists and day laborers who for more than a year have confronted one another at hiring sites in North County.

Monti said immigrant rights activists orchestrated the case against him, calling it an “outrage.”

“It’s a hatchet job against me,” Monti said.

Monti is a member of an anti-illegal immigration group, Save Our State, and has ties to Jeff Schwilk, the leader of the Oceanside-based San Diego Minutemen. Both organizations have protested at day-labor hiring sites.

After the verdict, Monti said the charges he faced were to shut him up after he filed a complaint with the San Diego County grand jury in March, alleging that the San Diego Police Department failed to adequately respond to an incident of prostitution and human trafficking in migrant camps near McGonigle Canyon. Monti has long railed against sex trafficking in the camps, and the smuggling of young girls forced into prostitution.

The canyon, where hundreds of migrant squatters were evicted last year, is not far from the hiring site where Monti was alleged to have brawled with day laborers.

In court during Monti’s trial, each side blamed the other for starting the brawl that ended up in the middle of busy Rancho Penasquitos Boulevard about 11 a.m. Nov. 19.

San Diego Deputy City Attorney Scott Pirrello told jurors during the weeklong trial that Monti started the fight when he allegedly grabbed one of the laborers and chased him into the street. Monti was at the site to photograph day laborers and people who hired them.

Day laborer Estanislao Gonzales testified that he didn’t want his picture taken and tried to leave. He said the sweat shirt he was using to cover his face may have brushed against Monti as he passed him, and that Monti subsequently grabbed his right arm. Gonzales testified that he pulled away and ran, but Monti chased him into the street, knocked him down and beat him.

Monti then battled Gonzales’ friends when they came to help, Pirrello argued.

But Monti’s attorney, Allison Aranda, argued to the jury that before the brawl, the day laborers had threatened Monti as he snapped photos, and that the fight started when one of them hit the Los Angeles-area schoolteacher from behind.

“It is illogical to accept this theory that Mr. Monti started a fight with nine of them,” Aranda said. “By himself?”

Aranda is with the Ramona-based United States Justice Foundation, which represented Monti free of charge, foundation director Gary Kreep said in an e-mail to the North County Times on Wednesday.

— North County Times wire services contributed to this report.

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