‘Stand ground’ law wins dismissal Sailor was slashed during fight

A Charleston judge dismissed criminal charges Thursday against Francis Montoya, who was accused of stabbing a man outside a Market Street bar.

A federal agent and a sailor brawled outside an Irish pub just after closing time, and the sailor wound up slashed in the abdomen with a foot of his intestines spilling out.

What exactly happened in those key moments between the grappling and the bleeding remains unclear, and no one saw a weapon. But a magistrate judge dismissed the case Thursday against 40-year-old Francis Xavier Montoya.

Montoya’s attorney, Andy Savage, called the case a true example of the “stand your ground” law, by which someone under attack may fight back to protect himself or someone else.

The law became the subject of national scrutiny following the February shooting death of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman in Sanford, Fla.

“Zimmerman ruined the reputation of this law,” Savage said after Thursday’s hearing. “This is what it’s designed to do.”

Montoya, a 13-year veteran of federal law enforcement, works as an agent with the Food and Drug Administration in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He had come to Charleston in April for training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

Montoya and colleague Gilbert Mendoza came across 22-year-old Thomas Disser, a Navy sailor, as they walked past Molly Darcy’s pub on East Bay Street shortly after 2 a.m. on April 15.

Disser, who had been behaving belligerently, knocked Mendoza to the ground, according to a court filing on Montoya’s behalf.

Disser began kicking and stomping Mendoza’s head with cowboy boots before turning his attention to Montoya, the court filing said. Montoya fought back, and witnesses to the fight next saw Montoya fleeing the scene as Disser clutched his abdomen, his intestines protruding from a 4-inch gash.

Two Charleston police officers on patrol found Montoya sitting on a bench near Slightly North of Broad with blood on his hands and clothes. When they detained him, Montoya said, “Man, you know how it is,” according to Detective Jeff Casey.

Casey said Montoya told the officers, “These guys jumped my friend. I jumped in and kicked the guy a few times.”

Police arrested Montoya on a charge of assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature. Investigators who testified Thursday said no one saw a knife, and investigators never recovered a weapon.

Police Sgt. Barry Goldstein interviewed Disser at Medical University Hospital and learned that the sailor and his buddies started their night at Buffalo Wild Wings in North Charleston, where Disser had three to five mixed drinks.

Goldstein said Disser then went to Kaminsky’s on Market Street for cake and a cocktail containing three or four liquors.

When his group moved on to Molly Darcy’s, Disser drank more, according to the sergeant. “From that point, he doesn’t remember what happened,” Goldstein said. “He said he woke up in the hospital being treated for his stab wound.”

Disser’s friends told police that he lost control that night, yelling at passersby. One friend told officers that Disser punched him in the face when he tried to get Disser to calm down, and that Disser bit him when the friend tried to put Disser in a choke hold, the officer testified.

Montoya’s attorney, Savage, wrote in court filings that Disser, in an “alcohol-induced rage,” had led an “unprovoked and ruthless attack” on his client and his client’s colleague. Police who took the stand Thursday agreed that Montoya violated no laws.

Prosecutor Larry Todd said that, lacking a weapon, the judge could reduce the charge to the lesser offense of simple assault, but even then the case presented challenges.

“Basically, state has to prove (Montoya’s) force, his response was too much,” Todd said.

Reached in Houston at his mother’s home, Disser declined to comment.

Montoya hugged members of his legal team after the hearing.

“It’s been a difficult process,” he said, his eyes red. “I’m glad justice was served.”

Reach Allyson Bird at 937-5594 or Twitter.com/ allysonjbird.