Most charges dropped in standoff case

   After a full day of testimony, a judge on March 10 dismissed four charges against a Ramona man involved in a 7-1/2 hour standoff with sheriff’s deputies. But he ordered the man to stand trial on a charge of inflicting corporal injuries to his girlfriend, who reported he had choked her.

   Lawrence Steve Monterastelli, 42, was ordered by El Cajon Superior Court Judge Allan Preckel to be in court on March 24 for setting a trial date. Monterastelli remains free on $250,000 bond.

   Preckel dismissed charges of assault with a firearm, making a criminal threat to his girlfriend, attempting to dissuade a witness from reporting a crime, and damaging a telephone line in the Oct. 11, 2009, incident. The judge dismissed the charges, saying there was not probable cause shown to support them in the preliminary hearing.

   Paul Pfingst, former San Diego County district attorney who served two terms, represents Monterastelli. He argued that the victim had taken Vicodin, a strong pain killer, as she was recovering from knee surgery, and she also drank alcohol. Pfingst said that combination caused her not to recall much of what happened.

   “It was overdramatic from the very beginning,” said Pfingst, adding that she was “unable to recall events,” which Pfingst described as “exaggerations,” that she initially reported.

   The woman first called deputies around 9:14 p.m. after she argued with Monterastelli, but the call was interrupted and hung up. Deputies arrived and talked with both of them and then left.

   Around 10:30 p.m., the woman called deputies from a neighbor’s house and said her boyfriend had pointed a loaded 9mm handgun at her and he had choked her earlier. She said Monterastelli threatened to kill her and her children.

   Neighbors called 911, saying they heard three to four shots fired before deputies arrived. Deputies then surrounded Monterastelli’s home in the 2700 block of Luelf Street in the Holly Oaks development area.

   The woman ran from the home to a neighbor’s house, but her children remained inside the home. Deputies couldn’t find Monterastelli initially, but they contacted the two children, who are 9 and 12, and the children came outside, unharmed, about 4 a.m.

   Pfingst said his client went inside a recreational vehicle parked at the house before deputies showed up and fell asleep. The woman reported he had been drinking and there were empty beer cans found on the floor.

   “There was no standoff.He was asleep in the RV,” said Pfingst.

   Once deputies learned he was in the motor home, they used tear gas to force him from the vehicle, and he surrendered around 6 a.m. on Oct. 12.

   “They woke him up,” said Pfingst.               

   Preckel said the woman had some redness around her neck that was consistent with choking and ordered Monterastelli to stand trial on a felony count of inflicting injury to a cohabitant. The woman and her children moved out. A restraining order barring Monterastelli from contact with the woman remains as previously set.

   Deputy District Attorney Timothy Campen said his office has not yet decided whether to refile the dismissed charges.

   “That is always a consideration. It’s true in any case when there are charges dropped and not bound over at a preliminary hearing,” said Campen.

   The victim was interviewed at 4 a.m. and deputies testified about what she told them. The woman testified she could not remember a lot from the incident, but said she felt threatened.

   The neighbors who called 911 after hearing shots were not called as witnesses, but deputies testified about what they said. Campen said there were four shell casings found in the front yard along with a telephone base that had been unplugged.

   Campen said the shell casings matched a 9mm Baretta handgun in the recreational vehicle, and there were still 12 rounds in the gun. The judge viewed photos of the victim that showed redness around her neck. 

   Monterastelli has pleaded not guilty.

   
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