In a surprising turn of events, longtime Chicano community activist Carlos Montes pled no contest Tuesday to one count of perjury, ending his criminal prosecution. He was scheduled to go to trial later this month, but decided to take the plea deal instead.
Montes had received local and national media attention for his case that stems from a search warrant executed on May 17, 2012, which resulted in the seizure of firearms and his arrest.
Montes is a convicted felon who is prohibited from possessing a gun, according to judicial authorities. Montes, however, has repeatedly asserted that he, like 23 other anti-war activists living across the country, has been targeted by the FBI for political persecution.
He entered a voluntary plea Tuesday to perjury by declaration for having declared that he did not have a felony at the time he purchased a gun, according to LA County District Attorney spokesperson Jane Robinson.
Montes’ trial was set, but no jury had been selected yet, Robinson told EGP.
Three remaining counts—one of perjury by declaration, one count each of possession of a firearm by a felon and possession of ammunition—were dismissed.
Two of the original six felony counts were dismissed on March 27 because the statute of limitations barred their enforcement, LA County D.A. Shiara Dávila-Morales with the LA County District Attorney’s Office told EGP.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge George Lomeli sentenced Montes to three years formal probation and ordered him to complete one day in a county jail, which he had already received credit for, Robinson said. He was also ordered to complete 180 hours of community service and he cannot possess any weapons, she said.
“The reason I pled no contest was because of advice from my attorney [Jorge Gonzalez], my family members and supporters. We were ready to go to trial, we could win it, but (then again) we could lose it…” said Montes, explaining the perjury charges would be easier to fight than the possession charges.
In the end, they decided not to risk five years in prison.
“I consider this a victory for myself and a victory to the people,” Montes told EGP, adding that if he were incarcerated he would not be able to continue his political organizing and marching in the streets.
Montes said he will continue to be politically active. He plans to protest at the Republican National Convention in Florida this August, but he probably won’t participate in civil disobedience or anything that could be misconstrued as breaking the law and leading to an arrest, he said.
According to Montes he has purchased more than one gun in the past. He said the gun he purchased in 2010 was for self-defense following an armed robbery at his home. Local authorities were fully aware that he possessed the firearms, he said.
Montes alleges that the FBI initiated this criminal case against him after he participated in a 2008 protests at the Republican National Convention. The FBI contacted the LA Sheriffs to inform them he could be a convicted felon in possession of a gun, he told EGP.
Montes’ felony stems from a conviction for having assaulted an officer—by throwing an empty soda can—while police disbursed a protest demanding Chicano Studies at East Los Angeles College in 1969, he said.
According to Montes, he was leaving the protest when he was arrested on suspicion of assaulting an officer. He claims that arrest was also a “frame up,” due to his being a student leader and founding member of the Brown Berets.
He said he never served time in jail for that conviction, which he claims there was some confusion over. He says he was re-sentenced in 1980 to probation on the same charge, all the time thinking it was a misdemeanor.
In 1969 he was charged with conspiracy to commit arson at the Biltmore Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles during a protest against then-Gov. Ronald Regan. He went to trial in 1979 on those charges and was found not guilty, he said. He said left the country for a few years during the 1970s due to threats to his life.
Montes’ rap sheet includes having been indicted for the East LA Walkouts (he was one of the “East LA 13”), for conspiracy to disrupt schools.
He says, however, that he has always fought what he believes were politically motivated charges and fulfilled his legal obligations. In the years following, he continued to be politically active, he said.
A few years ago, Alhambra Police seized Montes’ firearms after his then-girlfriend called the police after a domestic dispute. “The charges were dropped because it was just an argument, and they gave me all my guns back. I was under the state of mind that I’m not doing anything wrong [by possessing the guns],” he said.
He says in the years since he has served on a jury and registered to vote.
Montes told EGP he wants to thank his supporters who participated in numerous rallies and telephone call campaigns to lobby for the charges against him to be dropped.
A celebration in his honor is planned for June 23, according to the Los Angeles Committee to Stop FBI Repression.