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

"I'm not a little Nazi-ite," he said. "I was worried about his safety."

But Montoya's methodical, even-keeled lawyer, who spent 13 years in the Marines, began a lengthy series of questions that confronted the deputy about alleged inconsistencies in his prior statements. After more than half an hour of such inquiries, Keller began to squirm in the witness chair, sigh, give terse answers such as "negative" and glare at Kyle.

Finally, he snapped.

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

"[Montoya is] a liar!" Keller barked. "He's always a victim. He makes up stories. You never know where he's coming from. He's a manipulator, an actor."

The outburst visibly startled jurors, who leaned back in their seats as though in fear themselves.

"He attaches himself to people in power so he can get ahead," a red-faced Keller continued. "Just looking at him now irritates me."

Haluck tried to rehabilitate the deputy's testimony by asking if he'd ever mocked Montoya's military service.

"Never," replied Keller, who then assured the jury he'd also never called Montoya "stupid" and claimed that Montoya had been the aggressor in their relationship.

"Whenever he would walk by me, he called me 'white trash,' and I would just smile at him," testified Keller before being excused and walking by Montoya as if he were going to attack.

Aided by Keller's anger and Haluck's callous, one-note style, jurors officially determined that OCSD had violated USERRA with a hostile, anti-military bias against Montoya. Next, ignoring the defense lawyer's argument they couldn't award Montoya even a buck, the jurors handed him approximately $496,000 for due vacation and back pay. In coming weeks, Bernal will decide how much, if any, money should be awarded for lost future wages.

Before leaving the courthouse, several jurors thanked Montoya for all his public service, said they sympathized with his ordeal and recounted their fear of Keller.

"We could feel the hatred," one said.

Jurors refused to speak to Haluck or his more polite junior counsel, Michael J. Rossiter. Despite the verdicts, the OCSD legal team indicated to the judge that they won't concede their loss. They plan to appeal, a move sure to forestall the abused, ex-deputy's overdue encounter with justice.

*     *     *

In the wake of what he called an exhausting, "hard fought" trial of "David vs. Goliath," Montoya—a Los Angeles County resident—spends his days with his animals. Sadly, he has concluded the "worst thing" in his life was being awarded the Navy Cross. His dream? To someday own a martial-arts studio, where he can provide free training to kids. He says he's indebted to Kyle and Ludwig for believing in him, and he's still reeling from what he considers OCSD's relentless, ongoing campaign to destroy him.

"It's [the legal battle] not over, but I want to move on with my life," he said. "I just want a normal life, to have a wife and raise a family. I don't want media attention."

He says he finds solace in his favorite poem, "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley. This man, who took a huge pay cut and risked his life to fight as a Marine for this nation in Iraq, recited to me the entire poem with special emphasis on these passages:

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

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