The Minuteman Protection Program: Trial begins for activist charged in scuffle with day laborers

September 21, 2007 @

Posted by: Admin on Friday, September 21, 2007 – 09:23 AM PST

Staff Writer
North County Times

SAN DIEGO — An anti-illegal immigration activist charged with hate crimes for a midday scuffle with two day laborers on a busy North County street last autumn watched intently Wednesday as a man described the alleged assault.

Estanislao Gonzales told the jury that John Matthew Monti beat him while he lay in the middle of Rancho Penasquitos Boulevard.

“When he got on top of me, he was beating me, punching,” Gonzales testified, clenching his fists to mimic blows he took during the Nov. 18, 2006, confrontation.

Monti faces three charges of battery and three hate crime charges that he violated the civil rights of the alleged victims. A prosecutor said he made racially based insults during the alleged attacks.

The Los Angeles schoolteacher — who works with undocumented immigrant children — is also charged with filing a false police report for telling officers he was the one who was attacked.

The 36-year-old Monti has pleaded not guilty to the charges, all of which are misdemeanors. His trial is expected to run into early next week.

Each side blames the other for starting the fight.

The case highlights 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.

In Monti’s case, the prosecutor contended in court that Monti was taking photographs of day laborers gathered on Rancho Penasquitos Boulevard under the Highway 56 overpass when he accosted Gonzales, then attacked a second man who came to help.

“Mr. Monti went there to provoke them,” San Diego Deputy City Attorney Scott Pirrello told the jury in his opening statement. “He called them dirty Mexicans. He told them to go home.”

Monti and his attorney said that it was the laborers who started the scuffle by assailing Monti with a cheap shot from behind because they did not want their pictures taken.

“I couldn’t help but wonder if I read the same police reports, talked to the same witnesses,” Monti’s defense attorney, Allison Aranda, said to the jury after listening to Pirrello’s opening statement.

“He wasn’t there to harass them, to target them,” Aranda said of Monti. “He wasn’t in anyone’s face. He was attacked.”

Monti has long railed against human trafficking of young Latino girls brought across the border and forced into sex labor. Migrant camps — like those not far from the day-laborer hiring site — are the targets of Monti’s activism, his attorney said.

Aranda said her client was at the scene to hand out fliers to employers to tell them about the camps.

He was also taking pictures of the laborers and employers.

On the stand, Gonzales testified that he didn’t want his picture taken and was trying to leave the area. 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 arm. Gonzales testified that he pulled away and ran, but Monti chased him into the street, knocked him down and beat him.

The other day laborers pulled Monti off him, Gonzales said.

Gonzales, who has a 2001 conviction for beating his wife, said he did not hear Monti make racial slurs that Pirrello mentioned in his opening.

In the moments after the altercation, 911 calls from passers-by brought police to the scene. Monti told police he had been attacked from behind; the day laborers scattered before police arrived.

Pictures taken by the police show Monti with bloody scrapes on all of his knuckles, as well as small abrasions on his cheek and wrist.

His camera lens was broken, as was his cell phone.

When police began to investigate the fight, they decided Monti had been the attacker, prosecutor Pirrello said.

Monti, dressed in a dark pin-striped suit, sat stoically as the jury listened to testimony. Monti has previously said he is a member of the anti-illegal immigration group “Save Our State,” which has staged protests at sites across Southern California. There was no mention of Monti’s ties to that or any other activist groups during opening statements.

In court today, the jury will likely hear the 911 calls as well as Monti’s interviews on local and national talk shows, including Fox’s Hannity and Colmes. Monti’s assertion that he was attacked has also appeared on a number of anti-illegal immigration Web sites.

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