Vale woman sues state agencies on Montwheeler case

Vale resident Jessica Bates sued three state agencies last week, asserting they were negligent in releasing Nampa resident Anthony Montwheeler in 2016. The suit, filed by Nampa lawyer Brian Skaug, seeks $500,000. (The Enterprise/File).

VALE – Jessica Bates of Vale sued three state agencies last week, contending they were negligent in freeing Anthony Montwheeler in late 2016, just weeks before he is accused of killing her husband, David, and a Weiser woman, Annita Harmon.

The state Psychiatric Security Review Board, the Oregon State Hospital and the Oregon Health Authority “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,” according to the complaint filed in Malheur County Circuit Court.

Montwheeler was released by state officials in December 2016 after he asserted he had faked a mental illness to avoid prison for a 1996 kidnapping. He had been in the charge of the Security Review Board since 1997, and the board concluded in 2016 he didn’t have a mental illness that justified keeping him in state custody.

Less than a month later, prosecutors charge, Montwheeler kidnapped an ex-wife, Annita Harmon of Weiser, and stabbed her to death outside an Ontario convenience store. During a subsequent police pursuit, his vehicle collided with an SUV carrying the Bates couple. David Bates died and Jessica Bates was seriously injured.

The suit, filed by Nampa lawyer Brian Skaug, seeks $500,000 and lists Jessica Bates as plaintiff, as well as her five children and her husband’s estate. The suit comes more than a year after Skaug filed a claim with Oregon officials seeking $5 million for the Bates family.

“If I did not file this lawsuit, I would not be able to sleep at night. God forbid this would happen to someone else,” Jessica Bates wrote in a statement to the Malheur Enterprise. “Hopefully, this lawsuit will change things for the better.”

Robb Cowie, speaking for the Health Authority and the state hospital, said federal and state patient privacy rules prevent them from commenting on individual patients. The Oregon Department of Justice is representing the state in the lawsuit.

Montwheeler was in and out of state care following the 1996 kidnapping, which involved an ex-wife and child. During one period when he was allowed in the community, he met and married Harmon.

Harmon eventually divorced him because of domestic violence and abuse, her family says.

Montwheeler served a subsequent prison sentence in Oregon for an illegal scrap metal scheme but after his release he was directed back to the state hospital. It was then he began insisting he wasn’t really mentally ill and wanted to be freed, according to state records.

The state Psychiatric Security Review Board considered his request at a hearing in December 2016.

 A state psychologist testified that Montwheeler could be dangerous if released.

“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 his report to the board.

The board released him after a state doctor testified he could find no evidence Montwheeler was mentally ill. Montwheeler returned to the Nampa area and was living with his brother at the time of the January 2017 episode that resulted in the two deaths.

He was subsequently charged with murder, kidnapping and assault but a state judge recently concluded Montwheeler wasn’t fit for trial. In September, he ordered Montwheeler back to the state hospital 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.