Annita Harmon’s family sues 2 state agencies, claiming negligence with Montwheeler

A new lawsuit claims that a gas attendant at this Ontario station tried to rescue Annita Harmon after she was kidnapped by her ex-husband. (The Enterprise/file)

VALE – The father of Annita Harmon is suing two Oregon state agencies, accusing them of failing to keep control of the man now charged with murdering her two years ago. The suit reveals new details about the day she died.

The suit names the Oregon Psychiatric Security Review Board, which in December 2016 discharged its responsibility for Anthony Montwheeler, and the Oregon State Hospital, whose staff said Montwheeler should be freed from state custody.

The case was filed Friday, Dec. 21, in Multnomah County Circuit Court by attorney David Paul on behalf of Leslie Harmon II, the victim’s father who lives in Weiser.

This is the second lawsuit filed in late December attempting to hold the state accountable for what happened on Jan. 9, 2017. Jessica Bates, the wife of the late David Bates, sued the state agencies in Malheur County Circuit Court.

Both focus on the state’s actions involving Montwheeler.

He was found guilty except for insanity in 1997 related to the kidnapping of his then-wife and son in Baker City. He was put under the jurisdiction of the Psychiatric Security Review Board for 70 years, but the board released him in less than 20. It acted after a state psychiatrist who assessed that Montwheeler was mentally ill subsequently concluded there was no evidence Montwheeler suffered an illness justifying state control.

That change in evaluation was underscored by Montwheeler’s startling claim in his own testimony before the board that he had been faking his mental illness from the start to avoid state prison.

After his release from the hospital in December 2016, Montwheeler returned to the Nampa area. Authorities have now charged him with kidnapping Harmon, an ex-wife, outside her Weiser home early Jan. 9, 2017, driving her to Ontario and stabbing her to death outside a convenience store. He subsequently collided with an SUV driven by David Bates of Vale, killing him and injuring his wife.

The Harmon lawsuit said Montwheeler apprehended her, tying her wrists with plastic cables, and put her in his pickup truck. He drove into Oregon, stopping at a convenience market on East Idaho Avenue.

“When he stopped at a gas station, the gas attendant noticed restrained Annita Harmon and called the police while attempting to delay his departure,” the complaint said. “The gas attendant unsuccessfully attempted to free Annita Harmon. Montwheeler then proceeded to stab her.”

The suit said state agencies hadn’t properly assessed Montwheeler and didn’t require “a sufficient or reasonable treatment and supervision plan” ahead of his release. The suit said the state failed to warn Harmon that was back in the area and “presented a foreseeable risk of harm to her.”

The suit seeks $3.75 million.

State officials have steadfastly refused to explain their handling of Montwheeler, asserting soon after the murders that they were bound by Montwheeler’s privacy rights as a patient. The Enterprise, however, used the state public records law to obtain records of the Psychiatric Security Review Board that detailed Montwheeler’s history. The board sued the newspaper to block release of the documents but dropped the case on orders of Gov. Kate Brown.

Montwheeler has been charged with aggravated murder, first-degree kidnapping and first-degree assault but hasn’t entered a plea. He was returned to the state hospital in September after a state judge found he wasn’t mentally fit to stand trial. Hospital officials reported to the court on Dec. 18 that after treatment, Montwheeler could now participate in his defense. New court proceedings have been scheduled for Friday, Jan. 4, in Vale.