Sergeant Scott Montoya's Strange Fall

Fired OC deputy claims sheriff's department punished him for winning Navy Cross in Iraq War combat

Sergeant Scott Montoya's Strange Fall
Illustration: Steve Weigl | Design: Dustin Ames

Sheriff's deputies conducting a secret operation in Southern California believed they had good reason to fear their target, Scott Christopher Montoya. Confidential law-enforcement investigatory files labeled Montoya as highly dangerous, emotionally unstable and, inexplicably, a sexual superman with extraordinarily large genitals and Energizer Bunny stamina. A combat veteran, he possessed lethal sniper and black-belt martial-arts skills. The officers also knew he was an experienced killer with knowledge of the intricacies of police tactics. While surreptitiously placing tiny surveillance cameras around Montoya's home and hiding GPS trackers on all of his vehicles, deputies made sure to wear bulletproof vests.

But Montoya wasn't a criminal. In fact, he wasn't officially suspected of committing any crimes. He was a certified member of law enforcement and, as with his leery if determined pursuers, a deputy at the Orange County Sheriff's Department (OCSD).

Police officers are usually highly protective of one another. As our local prosecutors learned during several probes into police corruption in the past decade, some cops are readily willing to lie under oath, falsify official documents or hide incriminating evidence for a corrupt colleague. As long as an officer remains a loyal member in their fraternity, police-agency management and law-enforcement union bosses religiously shield cops who've screwed up from public scrutiny or accountability.

While OCSD had Montoya under surveillance, he was hailed a hero in a Torrance parade
Mark Mauno
While OCSD had Montoya under surveillance, he was hailed a hero in a Torrance parade
Montoya’s Navy Cross won national media attention and the wrath of fellow deputies
LCpl. Daniel J. Redding
Montoya’s Navy Cross won national media attention and the wrath of fellow deputies

So what would cause the OCSD to turn on an acclaimed, veteran deputy, place him under around-the-clock surveillance and build sensationally embarrassing files on his sexual practices?

Montoya thinks he knows the answer: The OCSD harbored an anti-military animus against him because he hadn't just been a soldier. He'd been a U.S. Marine sergeant who took time off from the department to go to war after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. During the 2003 Battle of Baghdad, Montoya earned the Navy Cross for repeatedly performing life-risking heroics while under enemy fire. His honor, the second-highest Marine award for valor in combat, won him an avalanche of local and national media attention, including from CNN, NBC, ABC, FOX, USA Today and The Orange County Register.

But, according to Montoya, the Navy Cross honors also sparked the wrath of fellow deputies who resented his celebrity. They hazed and heckled him for years. The harassment centered on his military service. There were persistent, deputy-spread rumors that he'd exaggerated his Iraqi War bravery because he's a publicity hound. In one instance, a deputy mocked him by placing a giant dildo and lube jar on his work gear before a shift. Instead of siding with him, department officials often backed his tormenters through inaction, and then unfairly terminated him from his dream job, Montoya claims in a pending federal lawsuit.

"When Sergeant Montoya returned from the war, he became a victim of pervasive discrimination and harassment at the hands of other OCSD employees," says the fired deputy's lawyer, John S. Kyle of San Diego. "Amazingly, these employees harassed him because he had served in the Marine Corps and had received the Navy Cross. It is despicable that OCSD can denigrate a man's heroic service to his country. It is even more despicable that OCSD expects this conduct will go unpunished."

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Thanks to the enormous power and influence of the police-union lobby, California governmental entities offer generous pay and perks to cops, including deals that allow the public employees to retire at the relatively young age of 50 while collecting huge, taxpayer-funded, monthly pensions and medical insurance for the rest of their lives. Another benefit in the state is known as the Public Safety Officer's Procedural Bill of Rights (POBR), a law that grants cops special rights designed to hinder investigations into an officer's alleged criminal or unethical conduct. For example, a cop suspect in a police personnel probe must be handed all the records—including confidential informant reports—the agency has collected against him before trying to get his version of events.

POBR also requires police-state type conditions. Law-enforcement agencies are prohibited from informing the public about dirty or incompetent officers' conduct as well as what, if any, disciplinary actions management imposed. In other words, departments can hire unfit cops, ignore wrongdoing and keep citizens clueless about the men and women who are given deadly force, invasive investigatory and arrest powers in the state. On a day-to-day basis, police bosses and rank-and-file cops appreciate living in this mutually satisfactory cocoon of minimal public accountability.

But the Scott Montoya v. Orange County Sheriff's Department litigation offers a rare, behind-the-scenes glimpse of the alarming consequences of the POBR's secrecy demands. To defend itself in the lawsuit and also probably to inflict scarring embarrassment on Montoya, OCSD has released large portions of its usually top-secret personnel files on the deputy. If the Marines call Montoya a selfless war hero, there's substantial proof OCSD officials viewed him before, during and after his military heroics as a greatly flawed man.

For example, the department's files show that beginning in 1989 Montoya unsuccessfully applied to become a deputy at least three times. Officials rejected him the first time based on his "lack of maturity," but nevertheless hired him as a sheriff's special officer to work at John Wayne Airport and county jails. He re-applied for a deputy position in 1992 and was re-rejected because he'd allegedly lied to another police department, lacked auto insurance and collected a poor driving record, according to the files. Two years later, he re-applied, lost his temper during a polygraph examination that uncovered he'd been improperly carrying concealed weapons on numerous occasions, failed a psychological evaluation and got rejected again. It took eight years, but Montoya finally won a full-powers deputy job in January 1997—two years after he joined the Marines' reserves and completed basic training.

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