Sergeant Scott Montoya's Strange Fall

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

After getting his deputy badge, but before the Department of Defense summoned him to take leave from OCSD to fight in Iraq in 2003, Montoya accumulated a series of troubling incidents in his personnel file. In 2000, a jail nurse complained that he inappropriately touched her in front of a line of inmates he was escorting through the Men's Center Jail in Santa Ana. He admitted to the contact but claimed it hadn't been intended as offensive. The following year, members of the cook staff at the jail complained that Montoya "badger[ed]" female inmates in the mess hall and tried to send a "kite," a personal message, to a female inmate. No reprimands were issued.

But in 2002, a Los Angeles woman accused Montoya of raping her at a Whittier horse stable's parking lot. According to records, the woman claimed they had been kissing in his vehicle when the deputy refused to accept her oral opposition to intercourse on the front seat. An LA prosecutor treated the report as a he-said, she-said incident and declined to file charges citing a lack of evidence. Back at OCSD, however, unamused officials stripped Montoya of 40 hours of pay for having sex in public, a violation of department policies.

"These allegations brought discredit upon you and the department," the suspension, signed by then-OCSD executive Jack Anderson, asserted. "Your actions are far below the standards of a person in your position. . . . You demonstrated a lack of judgment, poor decision-making and indiscretion in this matter. Be advised that any future sustained incident of a similar nature may result in more severe discipline being imposed upon you—up to and including termination."If OCSD officials are to be believed, their employment threat failed. They claim Montoya's on-duty misconduct grew worse after his return from Iraqi War service. During the following six years, the department secretly compiled lists of dozens of various alleged unethical acts that included befriending and aiding fugitives, prostitutes, even a child molester in Fullerton, according to court records. Michael J. Rossiter, the private attorney hired by the county to defend OCSD in the lawsuit, describes Montoya's behavior in unequivocal terms: "severe police misconduct."

Deputies believed Montoya passed patrol training only because he was Sheriff Carona’s “boy”
Steve Weigl
Deputies believed Montoya passed patrol training only because he was Sheriff Carona’s “boy”
Montoya was first in his Camp Pendleton class, a karate black belt, a Marine scout sniper and a horse-lover
Steve Weigl
Montoya was first in his Camp Pendleton class, a karate black belt, a Marine scout sniper and a horse-lover

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As American military forces were attempting to take control of Baghdad from dictator Saddam Hussein two weeks into Operation Iraqi Freedom on April 8, 2003, a U.S. soldier was shot in the leg, bleeding profusely and stuck in the open on Highway 5. Montoya—a scout sniper with the 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marines, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force—ran through a barrage of enemy fire, returned shots with a free hand and carried the wounded soldier on his shoulder several hundred yards back to safety. Though weighed down with 80 pounds of his own gear, he performed the same feat four more times, rescuing three additional Marines, including one badly dazed in a grenade blast, and a non-combatant Iraqi citizen. Afterward, he helped medics treat the wounds.

That's a summary of Montoya's "extraordinary heroism" in military annals. Two years after the incident, the Marines officially awarded him the Navy Cross, the second-highest Marine combat honor after the Medal of Honor. Colonel Geffrey L. Cooper, the commanding officer of his battalion, called him "a man of integrity and leadership" and "a great example." Then-Sheriff Mike Carona described him as "a complete warrior." In 2006, the federal government rented a Westminster billboard and put Montoya's photo next to these words: "Navy Cross Recipient: For his outstanding display of decisive leadership and unlimited courage in the face of enemy fire." The next year, President George W. Bush honored his bravery in a White House ceremony.

Newspaper, radio and print media accounts unreservedly hailed Montoya "a war hero" and "a real hero." During interviews, he humbly said he was only doing his job, quoted a Biblical passage, talked of his love of horses and birds, and specifically told a CNN correspondent that his next accomplishment would be to take a "leadership role at the sheriff's department." It would be one goal Montoya wasn't destined to achieve. Not everybody at the OCSD was cheering his celebrity.

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Early life as a deputy is apparently akin to joining a fraternity. New members get the crappy tasks, such as watching inmates all day, and older, more established members abusively haze the plebes, particularly the ones they don't like. At least, that's what happened to Montoya.

The Marine returned to the OCSD after his war service and asked to be transferred from jail duty to Harbor Patrol—his first choice—or Stanton. Management assigned him to the north OC city known as one of the most dangerous, gang-infested regions the department polices.

Deputies don't go directly from jail duty onto the streets. Before they are allowed to patrol, they must pass basic patrol training. This is the point in this story when it become difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile assertions about who cheated who in the Montoya saga.

Deputy Timothy John Keller served as Montoya's original training officer, and he claimed in a 2004 "confidential" report that his understudy was an idiot who couldn't perform simple tasks and openly wept at criticism. "[During training], Deputy Montoya was caught crying after he found out he made some mistakes," Keller memorialized in an intra-department memorandum. "During [a] conversation, Montoya slammed his hands on the briefing table and walked out of the room. After about 10 minutes, Montoya walked back into the room with tears in his eyes, and his hands were shaking so uncontrollably he could not write anything on his pad of paper."

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