The Minuteman Protection Program: Prosecutor: activist physically, verbally attacked day laborers

September 21, 2007 @

Posted by: Admin on Friday, September 21, 2007 – 09:58 PM PST

SAN DIEGO — An anti-illegal immigration campaigner provoked and attacked a group of day laborers in Rancho Penasquitos last fall, a prosecutor said Wednesday, but a defense attorney said her client was the one who was assaulted.

John Monti, of Bellflower, is charged with seven misdemeanor counts, including three counts each of battery and interfering with a person’s civil rights. The defendant is also charged with filing a false police report.

Deputy City Attorney Scott Pirrello told a jury in his opening statement that Monti drove down from the Los Angeles area on Nov. 18, 2006, to join a protest against illegal immigrant encampments 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 and hurled hate-related slang words at them.

“He called them dirty Mexicans,” the prosecutor said. “He told them to go home.”

Monti told a San Diego police officer who stopped at the scene that 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 a 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 victim, scared, 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.

“All of the day laborers were scared. They all ran off,” the prosecutor said.

A fourth day laborer told authorities that Monti then ran toward him and was “out of control,” according to the prosecutor.

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

Monti filed a false police report saying that he was attacked and that the migrant workers tried to steal his camera, the prosecutor said.

“He attacked them, and he tried to blame it on them,” Pirrello told the jury.

Defense attorney Allison Aranda said in her opening statement that Monti was a well-loved bilingual school teacher who is married to a Colombian woman.

Monti is a reservist in the military and a patriot in the true sense of the word, Aranda said.

“His mission is anti-trafficking, human trafficking,” Aranda said.

The defendant is a known activist who tries to raise awareness about young girls being smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border and sold as prostitutes, the attorney 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 Hispanic people or undocumented workers, and in fact 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.

“He wasn’t up in their face,” Aranda said. “He’s not the paparazzi.”

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.

She said a number of people who called 911 that day said they saw a man being beaten up by migrant workers.

None of the migrant workers who were allegedly attacked returned to the scene to talk to police, Aranda told the jury.

She said her client learned he would be charged in the case from rights activist Claudia Smith on national TV.

Aranda said friends of Monti will testify that he is not a racist, but a man who put himself in a “really bad situation that day.”

There was no mention of the anti-illegal immigration group the Minuteman Project during the opening statements. Monti is reportedly a member of “Save Our State,” which is affiliated with the Minuteman Project.

Jeff Schwilk, founder of a group called San Diego Minutemen, issued a statement saying Monti is not a member of any Minutemen groups.

The trial is expected to last about five days in the courtroom of Judge Cynthia Bashant.

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