The Minuteman Protection Program: Activist acquitted of battery in day laborer scuffle

September 27, 2007 @

Posted by: Admin on Thursday, September 27, 2007 – 11:42 AM PST

By 10 News

SAN DIEGO — An anti-illegal immigration activist was acquitted Wednesday of attacking a group of day laborers and shouting racial slurs at them during a confrontation in Rancho Penasquitos last year.

After a day-and-a-half of deliberations, a jury found John Monti, 36, not guilty of seven misdemeanor counts, including three counts each of battery and hate crime allegations of interfering with a person’s civil rights, and one count of filing a false police report.

“I feel good,” Monti said after the verdict. He said he would return Thursday to his job as a sixth-grade bilingual school teacher in East Los Angeles.

Monti said immigrant rights activist Claudia Smith, the executive director of the California Legal Rural Assistance Foundation in Oceanside, orchestrated the case against him, calling it an “outrage.”

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

Monti said he found out he was being charged on the Fox News Channel’s “Hannity & Colmes” show.

The defendant said prosecutors tried to make the trial about Jeff Schwilk, an acquaintance and founder of the San Diego Minutemen, a group opposed to illegal immigration.

Deputy City Attorney Scott Pirrello told the jury that Monti provoked and attacked the day laborers Nov. 18, but defense attorney Allison Aranda said Monti was the one who was assaulted.

Pirrello said Monti drove from Los Angeles to join a protest against illegal immigration camps in the Rancho Penasquitos area.

Soon after arriving near the intersection of Rancho Penasquitos Boulevard and Carmel Mountain Road, Monti got off his motorcycle and started taking digital photographs of a group of day laborers who were looking for work, the prosecutor said.

Pirrello said Monti got close to the migrant workers, invaded their personal space, called them “dirty Mexicans” and “told them to go home.”

Monti told a San Diego police officer that stopped at the scene day laborers threatened him as he tried to take photos.

The officer told the migrant workers that Monti had a right to take pictures in public and told both sides to stop threatening each other, the prosecutor said.

Once the officer left, Monti stuck his camera right in the face of Estanislao Gonzales, a migrant worker who tried to walk past him on the sidewalk, the prosecutor said.

Pirrello said Gonzales pushed Monti’s hand away and Monti grabbed the victim’s arm, which was deformed at the shoulder from a degenerative condition.

The man was scared and tried to run away, but Monti ran after him and pulled him down in the middle of the street, the prosecutor said.

Monti allegedly jumped on top of Gonzales and started punching him, Pirrello said.

Another migrant worker, Roberto Pena, tried to push Monti off Gonzales, but Monti grabbed his arm, according to the prosecutor.

Pena swung his backpack at Monti trying to get him off Gonzales but failed, Pirrello told the jury.

A third man came over and finally pulled Monti off the first day laborer, the prosecutor said.

The officer who was originally at the scene returned, and Monti told him he was jumped and attacked by the migrant workers, Pirrello said.

Aranda said in her opening statement that Monti was married to a Colombian woman, was a reservist in the military and is a patriot in the true sense of the word.

Monti is a known activist who tries to raise awareness about young girls being smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border and sold as prostitutes, Aranda said.

On the day in question, Monti came to San Diego to hand out fliers to inform employers about the problems in migrant encampments, his attorney said.

Aranda said Monti has no quarrel with Latinos or undocumented workers, and teaches some of their children.

She said Monti was not “in the face” of the day laborers in Rancho Penasquitos but about 15 to 30 feet away when he snapped most of his photos.

The attorney said Monti wasn’t harassing the workers but simply documenting who was present.

Aranda said the migrant workers initiated the confrontation with Monti and threatened to “crack his head” if he didn’t stop taking pictures.

As Monti looked down to check his photos, he was attacked from behind and his $1,200 camera was thrown into the street, Aranda said.

Monti defended himself and struggled with a migrant worker to get his camera back, the attorney said.

“I’m grateful that justice finally prevailed,” Aranda said Wednesday as she exited the courtroom.

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