Anthony Montwheeler. (The Enterprise/File)
VALE – A Malheur County woman and her children will not receive compensation from the state for a deadly 2017 crash in the wake of a decision last week by Malheur County Circuit Court Judge Erin Landis.
Landis dismissed a 2018 lawsuit filed by Vale resident Jessica Bates on behalf of her five children that asserted the state knew Anthony Montwheeler was dangerous and should not have been released from the Oregon State Hospital.
Montwheeler remains in jail pending criminal charges that he kidnapped and murdered an ex-wife in January 2017 and then fled police.
Prosecutors said the police pursuit ended when Montwheeler crashed into an oncoming vehicle outside of Ontario, killing David Bates and injuring his wife, Jessica. The suit was filed to hold the state accountable for its actions involving Montwheeler, Jessica Bates has said.
Montwheeler was discharged from the state’s control after state doctors concluded he was not mentally ill and that he had claimed to fake an illness to avoid state prison.
In court filings, the state said its agencies can’t be held legally responsible for what happened in January 2017. The state asserts that the state Psychiatric Security Review Board – the agency with jurisdiction over Montwheeler because of an earlier insanity finding – had “absolute immunity” from being held liable for its decision to set Montwheeler free.
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The state also said the Oregon State Hospital and the Oregon Health Authority, which oversees the hospital, can’t be held liable for a decision made by the state board and that the hospital followed legal orders to free Montwheeler.
Nampa lawyers Bruce Skaug and Kevin Dinius, who represented Bates, pushed back in their own legal filings and said the state “unleashed” Montwheeler knowing he would probably commit “acts of violence if released,” and that his release caused injury and David Bates’ death.
Landis ruled that Bates’ attorneys failed to make the case that the state’s release of Montwheeler resulted in the crash.
He also ruled Jessica Bates didn’t make a case that the release of Montwheeler created a danger because Montwheeler was no longer under the jurisdiction of the Psychiatric Security Review Board after he was released.
The dismissal of the Bates lawsuit comes after a state judge in Portland dropped a similar case against the state last fall. That lawsuit was filed by the family of Annita Harmon, the ex-wife Montwheeler is accused of murdering outside an Ontario gas station.
News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected] or 541-473-3377.
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