SLO police investigating possible hate crime in hotel attack on transgender woman

At least one Fresno man could face charges for an alleged attack on a transgender woman at a San Luis Obispo motel last week.

The woman — who The Tribune is identifying only as “J” because she’s an alleged victim of violence — said she was attacked by members of a group of men she believes were on a business trip from Fresno as she walked up the stairs to her room at the Super 8 Motel on Monterey Street.

J said she believes the assault should be considered a hate crime and that the entire incident was sparked by the men’s reaction to her gender and appearance. Whether a hate crime can be proven depends on if prosecutors can prove a crime was motivated by the victim’s real or perceived protected social group.

The woman said she suffered a concussion and several other injuries requiring a two-day stay in a local hospital.

San Luis Obispo police Capt. Jeff Smith confirmed the incident Thursday, saying via email that officers responded to the hotel — which has since changed name and ownership, apparently unrelated to the incident — at about 10 p.m. for a reported assault.

Dalton Montoya was cited for misdemeanor battery and released at the scene by officers after an initial investigation, Smith said. Public records show Montoya is 25 years old and lives in Fresno.

The police department was finalizing its report Thursday for referral to the District Attorney’s Office for possible charges. Smith did not say what his department’s investigation concluded.

J said via phone Thursday that members of the group of about six men drinking in front of a room on the second floor began making sexually suggestive comments and offering $200 for sex acts as she ascended the stairs of the motel.

“I heard someone say ‘tranny,’” she said. “I was just minding my own business.”

She said she told the group that “‘some day, somebody’s going to treat your children, your daughter, the way you’re treating me.”

She said one man started getting angry and aggressive, and she opened the lid on the soda cup she was carrying and “splashed” it on him.

“He just started punching me and punching me in the face,” J said.

The man allegedly held her to the ground, striking her repeatedly, banging her head on the stairs and choking her until she blacked out.

When she came to, she said a second man was half kicking her and half pushing the other man off her. She then ran to the lobby, and hotel staff eventually called 911, she said.

“I literally thought I was going to die,” she said. “Some people are saying (online) that I assaulted him first (because of the soda), but I did not assault him — any woman would do that to a man who talked to her like that.”

The woman said she had mixed feelings about officers’ response to the incident, but she said she appreciates that “they are doing everything they can to prosecute this man.”

She said she’s never experienced anything similar in San Luis Obispo.

After getting out of the hospital, J contacted The Gay And Lesbian Alliance of the Central Coast (GALA), and Executive Director Michelle Call accompanied her to view the motel’s surveillance footage.

“It’s pretty clear to me from the video it was a pretty violent attack,” Call said by phone Thursday.

The alleged San Luis Obispo assault occurred amid a string of about four dozen deadly attacks on transgender and gender expansive people across the U.S. over the past two years. A disproportionate number of the victims have been people of color.

This year has seen at least 16 transgender people fatally shot or killed by other means, according to the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights advocacy group.

That number is likely much higher because many of the victims can be misgendered in police reports and subsequent media reports, the organization says.

In 2018, Human Rights Campaign tracked at least 26 deaths of transgender people, mostly of color, in the U.S. due to violence perpetrated by others.

J says she is both Native American and Latinx, a gender-neutral or nonbinary alternative term to Latino or Latina.

“We are just very fortunate she wasn’t the latest statistic,” Call said.

Since San Luis Obispo Police Chief Deanna Cantrell took the helm at the department, Call said, its officers have undergone training to better serve the LGBTQ community. It also holds regular Police and Community Together (PACT) meetings to receive feedback from marginalized groups in the community.

“This has been a really amazing ongoing collaboration,” Call said. “It makes everything so much better.”

Call rated SLOPD’s response to J’s alleged assault “9 out of 10,” saying officers did not misgender her at the scene and were respectful.

She said, given the recent violence against transgender people, allies need to step up.

There are three things allies can do to prevent violence against members of the LGBTQ community, she said: speak up if people use hateful language; educate yourself and others; and intervene if you’re in a safe position to do so.

“If we want SLO to be the happiest city in America, it needs to be that for everyone,” Call said.

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Matt Fountain is The San Luis Obispo Tribune’s courts and investigations reporter. A San Diego native, Fountain graduated from Cal Poly’s journalism department in 2009 and cut his teeth at the San Luis Obispo New Times before joining The Tribune as a crime and breaking news reporter in 2014.