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

Haluck worked strenuously to undermine the fact that the deputy had served as a Marine scout sniper. Though it had no substantial bearing on the questions before the jury, he summoned two defense witnesses, both also ex-Marines and scout snipers now in law enforcement (Chris Hays of the OCSD SWAT unit and Ron Allen of the West Covina Police Department), to tell the jury that Montoya—who graduated first in his Camp Pendleton boot camp and first in his infantry-school training—hadn't been competent enough to handle scout sniper school, failed and was, thus, unworthy of calling himself a scout sniper. In fact, Allen, a onetime scout sniper instructor, claims he personally flunked Montoya for cheating on two map tests.

"We decided to let him stay [in scout sniper school] despite my better judgment," Allen snarled from the witness stand.

Marine Colonel Geoffrey L. Cooper (retired), who served as Montoya's battalion commander during the Battle of Baghdad, arrived in court as a Montoya witness and had nothing but glowing admiration, especially for his willingness to teach other Marines, including officers, martial art skills.

Jack Gould
Marine Sergeant Montoya was awarded the Navy Cross for exceptional combat bravery
Jack Gould
Marine Sergeant Montoya was awarded the Navy Cross for exceptional combat bravery

"He was a scout sniper," Cooper testified. "That's why I assigned him to a scout sniper platoon; otherwise, I wouldn't have. His fitness reports reflected that he was a scout sniper. His combat awards reflect that he was a scout sniper. The fact is he is a scout sniper. There's no doubt in my mind."

An irked Cooper paused and added, "I don't even know why this is an issue."

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Among the jurors hearing Montoya's case were a medical technician, a retired airline pilot, a Disneyland Resort manager, a construction-company administrator, an unemployed truck driver, a school secretary, a retired journalist and a sporting-goods-company employee. Their job was to decide if OCSD allowed a hostile work environment, and, if so, did the abusive conduct cause or exasperate the severe disability that now renders Montoya unemployable: PTSD.

Haluck argued that Montoya returned from Iraq War combat already afflicted and is lying that any of his experiences at the sheriff's department impacted his PTSD. If true, the lawyer's stance raises a multipronged dilemma: Why did OCSD put a disabled deputy on public patrol for five years? How did he manage to continuously receive positive employee evaluations? And if Montoya had been handicapped during the entire period after his military service, shouldn't he have been treated with respect and compassion by the department?

Montoya testified that he developed "full-blown" PTSD while enduring the harassment from his fellow Stanton deputies in 2005 and 2006. His symptoms included hyper-vigilance, sleeplessness and depression. "I wasn't able to go to social gatherings," he said. "I stopped riding horses. I started excluding people from my life—my mother, my pastor. I was just managing day by day. I couldn't focus. I felt sad all the time."

Montoya feared he'd lost his mind after the OCSD terminated him and worked to publicly wreck his reputation. The stress continued to mount. During VA counseling, he says, he realized the extent of his PTSD and that "I was not crazy."

Ludwig told jurors that the "cruel jokes" mocking the Navy Cross, hazing, ostracism and threats concerning backup were "devastating" to his 44-year-old client.

"The OCSD caused or exasperated Mr. Montoya's PTSD, making him unemployable," said Ludwig. "He cannot work because of what OCSD did to him."

At a cost of $515 per hour to Orange County taxpayers, Haluck retained Dr. David Lechuga, a former president of the California Psychological Association, to opine that it's important to be suspicious of PTSD claims. Lechuga has never interviewed Montoya, but after reviewing the work of others, he confidently stated that combat and the death of Montoya's fiancee "most probably" caused the PTSD. Under cross-examination by Ludwig, he acknowledged that a hostile work environment and social isolation can also worsen the condition.

But Dr. Johnson, the Department of Defense clinical neuropsychologist who has spent hours with Montoya, testified research has established that "when social support is high" for a soldier or a deputy, "PTSD risk is less."

Johnson, a powerfully articulate witness who commanded the attention of the jury, noted Montoya's medical file contains reports from other doctors who also concluded after testing that the deputy's PTSD could "mostly" be blamed on the hostile work environment he endured at OCSD.

"The horrific things experienced in combat were not driving his stress," testified Johnson, who volunteered to work on this case for free and has aided the FBI and American intelligence agencies. "It was primarily his feeling he was unsupported, not going to get backup and that his life was in danger. . . . In the case of Scott Montoya, he was experiencing something he hadn't in combat: antagonism from his team on patrol [in Stanton]. . . . At best, OCSD exasperated his PTSD. At worse, OCSD caused his PTSD."

Jurors didn't have to guess about what Montoya may have experienced. They got a firsthand taste when Keller marched into the courtroom while in uniform and inadvertently helped to settle the case. Initially, the deputy calmly answered questions by Kyle, insisting that he always had "Scotty's" best interests at heart.

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