Lawsuit moves forward after 2011 inmate death; family seeking temporary injunction
Attorneys representing the family members of Robert Montano have filed a lawsuit alleging Orange County employees consciously chose not to ensure that Robert Montano, who is a known mental health patient, received basic human needs, medical and mental health care, food or water.
The case is set to go to Federal court in November.
In addition, the family along with the attorneys from the Bernsen Law Firm are seeking a temporary injunction to shut down the daily activities of the Orange County Jail. They are awaiting a hearing date.
According to Cade Bernsen, they feel the procedures of the jail could put other lives at risk. Not only are medical needs not being met, but inmates who may have psychological needs are not being properly served.
According to the petition filed with the court, the incident began around 6:24 p.m. on Oct. 7, 2011, when an Orange County deputy was dispatched to the area of 9974 Bessie Heights Road, following a 9-1-1 call. The caller indicated Montano “was running around in people’s yards and in the roadway, yelling for help, and saying that there was someone chasing him with a gun.” The caller reported to dispatch he did not see any weapons and it appeared that Montano was intoxicated.
When the deputy arrived, she noted Montano was standing at the edge of a neighbor’s property, flailing his arms in the air, sweating profusely and yelling. She further indicated that he was foaming at the mouth.
Based on her observations Montano was deemed intoxicated to the degree that he was a danger to himself and others. He was arrested and charged with the Class C misdemeanor offense of public intoxication.
Upon arrival at the county Jail, a nurse evaluated Montano prior to his acceptance into the jail facility. It was decided Montano would be placed into a medical observation cell, known as the “bubble,” until the booking process was completed. He remained there for five days until his death.
Initially, the plan by the nurses was to simply observe Montano. After two days passed, they allegedly made the decision that Montano was too paranoid and delusional to be checked for vital signs.
The lawsuit alleges, Monano was placed in a medical observation cell so nurses could observe his health but covered the windows of the cell with paper.
According to the petition, in a statement from a nurse she described Montano as “paranoid.”
“He refused to eat, drink or wear uniform clothing. He was constantly screaming.” She also said, Montano stated someone was “going to kill him.” Montano also crawled around the cell on his hands and knees.
According to Cade Bernsen, basic needs such as a toilet in the bubble was not available. Montano only had a drain in the cell.
A witness reported, “Robert wanted water and when he received it, he threw it on the ground and said it had strychnine in it.”
The lawsuit alleges the county employees were aware of Montano’s mental problems and had made notations during prior stays at the jail.
Based on the Texas Ranger’s Report of Investigation following Montano’s death, a justice of the peace arrived at the jail on Oct. 8 to arraign Montano. However, the judge was unable to arraign him because he was incoherent. On Oct. 11, the judge again attempted to arraign Montano. The report indicated the JP was again unable to arraign him because of Montano’s health and indicated he would try again on Oct. 12.
The nurse’s log reported Montano was crawling on the floor at 9:32 p.m. on Oct. 11. By 11:01 p.m. on the same date, Montano was quiet, lying supine on the floor. All the log notes indicated Montano was quiet and lying supine on the floor until 4:58 a.m. Oct. 12, 2011. At 4:58 a.m., the cell check log notes indicated the nurse saw Montano still lying supine on the floor and he did not appear to be breathing.
The staff attempted CPR in order to resuscitate Montano.
The initial cause of death according to the autopsy report by Dr. Tommy Brown, states “renal failure due to bath salts toxicity.” The decedent was incarcerated for public intoxication on Oct. 7, 2011, from bath salts. He expired on Oct. 12, 2011.”
However, the toxicology report issued on Oct. 25, 2011 contains no information at all regarding bath salts “toxicity.” Furthermore, the toxicology report indicated Montano did not have any illegal drugs in his system at all. Instead, the toxicology report reveals Montano had high levels of urea nitrogen and creatine in his vitreous fluid which possibly indicated poor kidney function at the time of death.
Montano’s vitreous fluids indicated he was going through “ketoacidosis” which is a metabolic state associated with people who undergo “fasting.” It often times is accompanied by dehydration.
The family is seeking damages from pain and suffering on behalf of Montano and themselves, burial expenses, attorney fees and court costs.
Orange County officials are unable to comment on pending litigation.