No Back Up for Scott Montoya

The Marine won the Navy Cross for bravery in Iraq. But it was his job with the Orange County Sheriff's Department that gave him PTSD

Longtime OCSD Sergeant Wayne Quint Jr., who also served as the president of the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs (AOCDS), says he was the person who intervened on Montoya's behalf and doesn't regret the move. There was "zero justification" to fail the deputy, according to Quint, who studied all of the training reports on Montoya.

"His patrol training was progressing," Quint said in court. "Any [Montoya] issues were definitely correctable. There was nothing [in the reports] glaring that he was failing."

Quint, now the chief of the Bureau of Gambling Control in the California Attorney General's office, vividly remembers his impression about the effort to fail Montoya, who went on to receive accolades in 2005 for not using lethal force when he could have justified shooting a suspect and, in 2006, for crawling into a burning, collapsing building to rescue a trapped man. "This isn't right," he recalls thinking. "This guy is getting railroaded."

Montoya with his legal team, John S. Kyle (left) and Frederic G. Ludwig III
Jack Gould
Montoya with his legal team, John S. Kyle (left) and Frederic G. Ludwig III
William L. Haluck is the Irvine-based, private lawyer retained by the OCSD in the Montoya case
Jack Gould
William L. Haluck is the Irvine-based, private lawyer retained by the OCSD in the Montoya case

Nevertheless, resentment of Montoya's perceived preferential treatment from the sheriff, whom he met only twice, grew worse after he passed training over the objections of several high-ranking OCSD managers, including Tim Board and Dave Wilson. Montoya had no idea the clock was ticking on his career. His enemies waited almost half a decade until Carona, convicted of corruption in 2009, was gone—and then they pounced.

That same year, with new Sheriff Sandra Hutchens in control, the department opened three dubious Internal Affairs investigations into Montoya during a six-month period, absurdly declared him a threat to commit workplace violence without a shred of meaningful supportive evidence, placed surveillance cameras at his home, put GPS tracking devices on his vehicles, hacked his personal cell phone, tailed him in black Crown Victoria sedans, demanded his ex-girlfriends share with the government investigators intimate details of his sex life, recorded the size of his penis (extra large) in official records, lamely tried to imply he may have been involved in a homicide, unsuccessfully badgered minors to say he'd acted perversely with them, worked to distance his friends from him, leaked inflammatory personnel records out of context, improperly docked him $41,000 in earned vacation pay, published his name and picture on a "Be On the Lookout" notice used for murderers and rapists (a move Quint called "outrageous"), pressed the Marines to reconsider issuing him the Navy Cross, and terminated him.

Overkill?

In a glaring sign of consciousness of guilt and a cynical way to declare plausible deniability that they hadn't targeted Montoya, department officials assigned numerous other ex-military employees to prominent roles in bringing down the deputy; many of them received promotions before testifying.

"The OCSD is systemically dysfunctional and a cesspool," said Kyle. "They spent five years creating a one-sided record against Scott."

After being put on notice of the deputy's impending legal action, the department claims it accidentally destroyed more than two years' worth of related internal records that might have revealed the depths of the agency's determination to taint the deputy. Though one surviving memo proves officials plotted to encourage civilians to file complaints to justify probes, the remaining, carefully preserved records not surprisingly support the OCSD's contention that they were doing a public service by terminating Montoya.

Concluded Kyle, "[The OCSD's Internal Affairs reports] created a Frankenstein, a portrait of a monster. The problem is it simply wasn't true."

*     *     *

At Montoya's recent civil trial inside U.S. District Court Judge Jesus G. Bernal's Riverside courtroom, it was the task of Haluck, the aforementioned seasoned OCSD legal representative, to convince the six women and two men on the jury that the department did not permit a hostile work environment and that hostilities against the deputy had not been motivated in any way by his military service. The partner at Koeller, Nebeker, Carlson & Haluck is considered a formidable attorney who specializes in defending insurance companies against customers. He's well-organized, quick on his feet, well-versed on legal matters and, I suspect in most cases, an exceptionally clever advocate.

But from the outset of Montoya's case, Haluck seemed most determined to show jurors his contempt for the ex-deputy at every opportunity. Not once during nearly two weeks of proceedings did he show any hint of respect, choosing instead to treat the Navy Cross recipient like a worthless liar unfairly attempting to tarnish the reputation of a blemish-free law-enforcement organization. Several witnesses who dared side with Montoya received when-did-you-stop-beating-your-wife-type questions, tactics I was surprised Bernal allowed.

Compounding those tactical errors, Haluck also apparently didn't respect the intelligence of the jurors, a working-class panel deeply appreciative of military service. Using sleight-of-hand trickery, he constantly reasoned it was inherently impossible for OCSD to have cheated Montoya because the department routinely hires ex-military employees. He suggested Montoya fabricated his complaints of a hostile work environment for the litigation, though several department supervisors testified they'd been aware of the situation as early as 2004. He described the onetime deputy as a sexual pervert, though no corresponding proof surfaced in the case. He mocked him for weeping after the death of one of his horses, which doesn't seem worthy of ridicule. He suggested Montoya might have played a suspicious role in the boating death of a fiancee, though the evidence showed he was genuinely devastated. He tried to imply the heroics that earned Montoya the Navy Cross were figments of his wild imagination, though the lawyer couldn't produce any conflicting information.

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