Jessica Bates of Vale filed suit on Wednesday against the State of Oregon, saying the state should not have freed Anthony Montwheeler in December 2016 just weeks before he is accused of killing her husband, David, and a Weiser woman, Annita Harmon.
The complaint filed in Malheur County Circuit Court by Nampa attorney Bruce Skaug names three state agencies – the Psychiatric Security Review Board, the Oregon State Hospital and the Oregon Health Authority – as well as state psychiatrist Dr. Mukesh Mittal and five unnamed state employees. The filing contends they were negligent in their decision to set free Montwheeler despite a history of mental illness and violence.
“Defendants … had knowledge that Montwheeler was mentally unstable and unsuitable for release because he was prone to extreme violence and as such posed a danger to others,” read the complaint.
Spokespersons for the three state agencies did not immediately return requests for comment on Wednesday.
In response to written questions from the Enterprise, Jessica Bates explained her decision to file the complaint almost two years after her husband’s death.
“If I did not file this lawsuit, I would not be able to sleep at night. God forbid this would happen to someone else,” she wrote. “Hopefully, this lawsuit will change things for the better.”
Montwheeler was placed into the custody of the Oregon Psychiatric Security Review Board in 1997 after being found “guilty except for insanity” in a kidnapping case involving an ex-wife and child. He eventually was released from the Oregon State Hospital into community treatment, which is when he met and married Annita Harmon. She eventually divorced him because of domestic violence and abuse, her family says.
After Montwheeler served time in prison for an illegal scrap metal scheme, he was returned to the Oregon State Hospital, where he told doctors he had actually faked his mental illness. The Enterprise has previously reported that doctors there ultimately decided his claim was true and the board responsible for his supervision agreed. At a December hearing, a state psychologist testified that Montwheeler was still dangerous.
“If in the community without supervision, his risk of violence would be high, and it would most likely target an intimate partner or other family members,” state psychologist Brian Hartman wrote in a report for the board two years before his release, a document quoted in Bates’ complaint.
The board let Montwheeler go, and he returned to the Weiser area, where Harmon lived with family.
On January 9, 2017, prosecutors say Montwheeler kidnapped then stabbed Harmon. While in a car chase with police, he swerved his truck into an oncoming lane and collided head on with an SUV carrying Jessica and David Bates. She was severely injured. He was killed. Jessica Bates’ lawsuit says Montwheeler “intentionally” hit their vehicle.
Montwheeler now faces charges of murder, kidnapping and assault in Malheur County Circuit Court. He was returned to the Oregon State Hospital in September to be treated for moderate depression stemming from his incarceration that a state doctor said impaired his ability to participate in his defense. He has not yet entered a plea in the case, which is scheduled to go to trial in late 2019.
The complaint seeks financial damages for five counts of negligence for a total of $500,000 in addition to attorney fees.