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Salt Lake City Weekly Dementia

JULY 13, 1998:  David Montoya is locked up in a six by eight-foot prison cell where he hallucinates and hears voices, pacing much of the night, unable to sleep. He is mentally ill and suffers from, among other things, schizophrenia and paranoia accentuated by his small cell. But he receives no therapy or medication. He is sometimes taunted by inmates and prison guards and lives in a Dark-Ages hell.

Montoya has now served 10 years of a 1- to 15-year sentence for attempted rape and will end up doing more time than many murderers. But unlike most convicted of murder, aggravated assault or armed robbery, Montoya is not being prepared for the outside world: He presently receives no education, no job training and no social skills training. He rots in his maximum-security cell at the Utah State Prison awaiting the day five or six years hence when the doors will slide open and he will walk out into the bright sunshine of freedom.

If nothing intercedes between now and then, however, freedom will pose great challenges for Montoya. With no money, where will he live? With no address, how will he get a job? With no transportation, how will he find either? And that doesn't take into account his mental health—medication and therapy. It is a scenario that could well be a prescription for disaster.

But for now, Montoya waits and waits. Unable to fit well into a prison system that demands obedience and submission, Montoya has been labeled a troublemaker, a discipline problem. Although he has never committed an act of violence inside the prison, he has been severely beaten by an inmate, strapped down to a chair for two days by prison guards, shackled naked to a bed in the infirmary by medical personnel, wrestled down by a SWAT team and thrown in solitary confinement. Those things, however, may be small potatoes compared to the ongoing mental torture he endures as a regular part of his daily life in max.

Montoya is not alone. There may be another dozen or two like him, locked down in maximum security. By its own count, the Utah Department of Corrections has 713 inmates—almost 14 percent of the prison population—classified as suffering from some form of mental illness. Of them, 441 are taking psychotropic drugs prescribed by prison doctors.

David Montoya, Utah State Prison inmate #16932, as seen before he was banished to maximum security.
photo: Fred Hayes

Perhaps the most infamous of them was Michael Valent, who died last year at the Point of the Mountain men's facility after being restrained naked to a device called "the chair" for 16 hours. He was put in restraints for no apparent reason outside of his mental illness. A blood clot caused by "the chair" went to Valent's heart. A prison spokesman said Valent was put in restraints because he was banging his head on the wall. An autopsy later proved that the prison administration was lying about the head banging. As it turns out, Valent was simply relaxing with a pillowcase over his head when he was overpowered by a prison SWAT team and wrestled into restraints.

There but for the grace of God goes David Montoya.


Montoya is a difficult case for authorities, largely because criminal justice officials from the courts to the prison to the Utah Board of Pardons and Paroles do not know how to deal well with the mentally ill who are convicted of crimes.

When he was 24, Montoya was convicted of having consensual sex with a minor. Montoya says the 14-year-old girl told him she was 18. Out on parole after two years in prison, Montoya stopped to help a stranded motorist. In the course of the day, he and the woman he was helping began drinking. Things got friendly and then, apparently, out of control. She alleged rape but there was no sexual intercourse.

Montoya admits pulling the woman's pants off, but said he did not rape her. "When she told me to stop, I stopped," he insists.

Convicted of his second sex-related felony, Montoya was deemed a sexual predator by the Board of Pardons, which refuses to allow him to be released. Board Chairman Michael Sibbett maintains that Montoya's crimes are much more aggravating than he describes them. Further, board members believe the inmate is a high risk to commit another sex offense. Sibbett said he is unsure whether Montoya really suffers debilitating schizophrenia or just uses mental illness as an excuse—a means to manipulate the criminal justice system.

Illustration by Randy Reeves, formerly incarcerated in the Utah Correction System.
photo: Fred Hayes
But on a dozen different occasions by as many as 10 different psychiatrists and clinicians over the past 10 years, Montoya as been found to be suffering from schizophrenia and paranoia. In February 1992, Montoya was moved to the State Mental Hospital by court order. The Board of Pardons will not give him credit for the year he spent there—meaning he could likely serve 16 years of a 1- to 15-year sentence.

By contrast, on three occasions—two by the Utah Department of Corrections, and once by the Board of Pardons—he was found not to be mentally ill, but rather "manipulative" and "anti-social." Former prison psychiatrist Dr. Van Austin found that Montoya was not mentally ill and therefore would not treat him, according to a Board of Pardons document obtained by City Weekly. Since that time, Montoya's mental health has deteriorated. He has become obstreperous, and now is labeled a discipline problem, according to prison records obtained through the Utah Government Records Access Management Act.

James Gilson, an attorney who has voluntarily represented Montoya on a no-fee basis since 1995, said Montoya is not a sexual predator but has the I.Q. and the sexual maturity of a 14-year-old. "He is not like the Gordon Lane rapist. He isn't a stalker. His offenses were more like date rape," Gilson said.

Montoya is not being prepared for the outside world, Gilson said. "David has not had a chance to focus on therapy issues. He has yet to really focus on why he is there because he has been so filled with paranoia and anger. [Prison officials] aren't doing anyone a favor by ignoring his problems."

The lawyer who represents Michael Valent's mother in a wrongful death suit against the state says many mentally ill inmates aren't getting the help they need. "The Department of Corrections is supposed to do things that will help inmates get out early but also so they won't recidivate," said Ross Anderson. "But since there is little programming for them, once they are released into the community, they re-offend and end up going back through the revolving door at a tremendous cost to taxpayers and victims."

There is similarity between Valent and Montoya. Anderson explained that Valent thrived at the State Mental Hospital where he received treatment. Like Montoya, Valent deteriorated at the prison. "Instead of providing adequate mental health services for Michael, he was locked down day and night, without therapy, without medication, treated in a manner we wouldn't treat a dog."

Inmates who suffer from severe mental illness are punished further when they don't fit into the prison setting, Anderson noted. "The problem is, they punish these inmates because of their conduct, when their conduct is part of their mental illness. In effect, they are being punished for being mentally ill."

Not only is Montoya mentally ill, he also suffers from alcoholism, said a former advocate, Jan Harding, who was affiliated with the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. Over the course of several years, she got to know Montoya and became familiar with his records at the Utah State Prison.

"This kid started drinking when he was 12. Any trouble he's been in has been alcohol-related," said Harding, who noted that Montoya's mother and father have histories of mental illness.

Harding says that a lot of Montoya's problems at the prison are due to the prison's former psychiatrist, Austin, who left corrections last year. "As you went through the records, you can tell how the staff was very concerned about David. So, they referred him to Dr. Van Austin."

During his stay at the State Mental Hospital, Montoya filed suit against Austin, Harding said, for the incident when the inmate was shackled naked to a bed. "He was scared to go back [to the prison]. He feared that Van Austin would retaliate."

Following his stay at the State Mental Hospital, Montoya was systematically kept from the prison's Special Services Dormitory, known as SSD, where he could get therapy, Harding recalled. "Van Austin put in the records that he was lowering David's medication and convinced David of the dangers of medication. After several months, David was off medication altogether and so he didn't qualify for SSD."

Austin could not be reached for comment.

Without medication and therapy, Montoya went from an inmate who was completing programs and progressing to one who has been labeled a discipline problem and locked down. According to records obtained through GRAMA, Montoya received certificates for completing such things as a 6-hour literacy program and a 12-hour alcohol and drug class in 1993 and '94 while incarcerated at the Davis County Jail. He also participated in the Turning Point Self-Improvement Course while at Davis County. And from 1993 through 1995, Montoya received monthly program reports that were rated generally good, with some falling into the excellent category and some only judged to be fair.


Ironically, Montoya was transferred back to the Point of the Mountain prison so he could receive more programs and therapy. But by mid-1996, without medication Montoya began to have problems. In May, Officer Charles Zito reported that Montoya threatened to break his nose, if the inmate wasn't allowed to attend a Native American sweat lodge ceremony. In a telephone interview, Montoya denied the allegation, but admits calling Zito a "big-nosed bastard." Montoya said Zito had been harassing him and he couldn't take it any more.

"I called him a big-nosed bastard. They say that I said I was going to break his nose. But that isn't right."

Nevertheless, the incident was enough to send Montoya to maximum security, where things continued to spiral downward. In July, 1996, a prison guard reported that Montoya had threatened his cellmate in max. A November 15, 1996 document makes note of the fact that Montoya spread feces on the wall of his cell.

But Montoya explained it was his cellmate who threatened him because he paces the floor all night. His cellmate forbade him from pacing or using the toilet, Montoya said. Montoya was isolated in solitary confinement and when he was advised that he would have to return to live with the same cellmate, he spread feces on the wall of the holding cell.

The Utah State Prison at Point of the Mountain near Draper houses hundreds of mentally-ill inmates. The philosophy has been to warehouse them, rather than treat them.
photo: Fred Hayes
"They were teasing me, so I put feces on the wall," Montoya said. "SWAT came in and cut my jump suit off and put me in the chair (restraint). They said I spit on the SWAT and threatened them. That isn't true. They manhandled me and put me on the chair."

For prison officials, these incidents are more than enough evidence that Montoya should remain locked in maximum security. To the Board of Pardons, Montoya's recent record is indicative of someone who is not ready to be released into society.

Sibbett said he believes that Montoya is a predator who should not be released. "It concerns us when a parolee comes back with another sex offense," he said in a City Weekly interview. "We saw him as a repeat sex offender who refused to get therapy," Sibbett said of the board's decision to keep Montoya in prison until September 2004. "We didn't have many options because our first responsibility is to protect the public."

The Board of Pardons chairman noted that mentally ill inmates pose a special problem for the criminal justice system but that Montoya should not get sympathy because he is a repeat sex offender. "It's a sad commentary on our whole society that we have to lock up the mentally ill. But I'm not sure Montoya is the one to make that case. There are other non-violent mentally ill offenders to put before the public."

Under Utah's indeterminate sentencing system, the Board of Pardons may keep an inmate locked up for all or any part of the sentence handed down from the court. A 1- to 15-year sentence gives them a lot of latitude. Board administrator John Green said a convicted murderer who participates in prison programs and demonstrates a willingness to improve and take responsibility could very well be released before someone like Montoya.

But Green explained that the board could not advise the prison on how to handle the inmate. "The board can't say to corrections, while this guy is out there, you have to give him therapy."

By contrast, the prison can't let Montoya out until the board says so. And so the cycle goes around and around for Montoya. He can't get programming and therapy because he's in max. And that is among the reasons the Board of Pardons views him as a bad risk.

Defense attorneys and others say the compartmentalized and somewhat uncoordinated Utah criminal justice system, encompassed by the courts, the prison and the Board of Pardons, poses too many obstacles to fair treatment. "It seems that everybody in the criminal justice system is satisfied with simply pointing fingers," Anderson noted of the interaction between the board and the prison.

"The circumstances surrounding Michael Valent's death are a perfect example of how we end up pouring a lot of money into trying to clear up problems that could have been solved less expensively and at less human cost As a result, not only did Michael die, but the state is spending tremendous resources defending the institution (in a lawsuit)."


Likewise, there seems to be little hope for Montoya. He finds himself in the worst kind of Catch 22: He can't get medication and therapy because he's locked in maximum security. He can't get out of max because he's labeled a behavior problem, and that is because he isn't on medication. Beyond that, Montoya doesn't understand why he has served so much time on an attempted rape conviction, when he watches murderers and those convicted of child sex abuse come and go. And he doesn't understand why he is confined to maximum security, where the living is hard even for those in full possession of their faculties.

"I need to get out of this Draper facility. They are abusing me here. I need to get to the Davis County Jail where I can get my programming," Montoya said. "I've been in here too long. These other guys who raped little kids are getting out. But they just keep me in here. They are conspiring against me."

Montoya's attorney contended that it is as easy for the prison to treat his client, as to perpetuate his illness while not preparing him for the outside. "Their focus has been warehousing and punishment and not treatment. In the long run that doesn't serve society," Gilson said.

If there is any hope for David Montoya, it lies in the hands of Pete Haun, the new director of the Corrections Department. Haun's predecessor, O. Lane McCotter, was pushed out following the death of Valent. While Haun is hesitant to criticize McCotter, he says it's time for a change where the treatment of mentally ill inmates is concerned.

Haun's administration will soon convert the old women's facility at the Point of the Mountain into a 100-bed psychiatric unit to house mentally ill inmates. There, inmates will receive therapy and medication under a professional psychiatric team, the new director said in a City Weekly interview.

"I think it is critical. We have several special needs offender groups that we have identified. The mentally ill group is one of the most critical," Haun said. "We have just hired a new clinical director with outstanding credentials. We are making some changes in our approach to this type of offender."

Over the past two decades, a number of task force reports have noted the need for a prison psychiatric unit, Haun said. What he didn't explain, however, was that the State Legislature only funded the unit in its last session following the much-publicized death of Michael Valent.

Nevertheless, the question still remains, will Montoya qualify for the new housing and the therapy and programs that would prepare him for a productive life on the outside? Or will he continue to rot in his cell until the day he is released to the streets?

Prison officials still maintain that Montoya is not mentally ill. Despite the long list of psychiatrists who have said that he suffers from schizophrenia, the prison holds fast to the diagnosis by Dr. Van Austin, the man Montoya sued for shackling him naked to an infirmary bed.

The new corrections director, however, with a little prodding from Montoya's court-appointed attorneys, said he is willing to reevaluate Montoya. "The new clinical director will do an evaluation. He brings a fresh philosophy in this direction. In addition, we will allow an independent psychiatrist, chosen from a list, to do an evaluation, as well," Haun said.

How soon will Montoya be evaluated? Corrections officials say soon, although they have been saying that for at least three months now.

How soon will the new prison psychiatric unit be ready? By the end of the year, Haun insists.

Will Montoya get medication, therapy and training to prepare him for society? Only time will tell. But no one seems to be in a hurry except Montoya, whose days drag by like years in his own special hell, compliments of the Utah criminal justice system.

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