Man sues regional center, says misdiagnosis kept him locked up 20 years

2014-07-11T22:30:00Z Man sues regional center, says misdiagnosis kept him locked up 20 yearsBy LORI PILGER / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

A man who spent nearly 20 years in a locked mental health ward at the Lincoln Regional Center is suing doctors there for malpractice, saying they warehoused him "under the guise of treatment."

John Maxwell Montin, 52, was released nearly a year ago after a regional center doctor acknowledged he'd been misdiagnosed from the beginning.

Now he's seeking more than $22 million in damages for incorrectly labeling him mentally ill, and unnecessarily holding him and subjecting him to treatments he didn't need; $760,000 in lost wages; and $10 million in punitive damages.

Leah Bucco-White, a public information officer with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, said Friday they haven't yet seen the lawsuit and declined to comment.

It started in 2012, when Lincoln attorney Jon Braaten persuaded Dr. Klaus Hartmann, a psychiatrist at the regional center, to read a 500-page transcript of Montin's 1993 trial in Hayes County.

After the review, "he promptly revised his forensic view of Montin," Omaha attorney Michael Gooch wrote in a federal civil lawsuit filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Lincoln.

From Aug. 13, 1993, to July 16, 2013, regional center doctors and others involved in Montin's treatment had relied on information from initial police reports, rather than court records, in determining that Montin had delusional disorder.

In 1993, a Hayes County jury found Montin not responsible by reason of insanity of two charges: false imprisonment and use of a weapon.

But jurors found him not guilty of attempted murder and a second weapons charge, and prosecutors dropped 22 other charges originally filed against him.

Montin was deemed mentally ill and dangerous, and was committed to the Lincoln Regional Center.

At an annual review hearing in 2012, Braaten asked Hartmann what his understanding was of what had occurred back in 1992 and learned his understanding was significantly different from what witnesses had said at trial. Montin's doctors just didn't believe him.

Lawmen said Montin, who was on a trip from Florida, walked up to a rural home in southwestern Nebraska, saying it belonged to his ancestors and that he was taking it back. Law enforcement called it an 11-hour standoff that ended with a shootout, but no one was injured.

At trial, the narrative turned out to be substantially different, Montin's lawyers say now. The residents came to the door with two shotguns, and Montin hid in a ditch overnight. Deputies said they may have heard a single shot.

Braaten said he just kept pushing the issue and pushing the issue. He said it was almost a Perry Mason moment when the doctor admitted he never had read the transcript of Montin's trial.

Up until that point, Braaten said, "No matter what (Montin) said about the events that occurred in 1992, it was viewed under the auspices of him being delusional."

For years, the doctors were saying Montin had delusional disorder. Everybody was saying it, he said.

"We were just banging the drums, and they finally had to start listening," Braaten said.

Then, in 2013, a regional center psychiatrist, Dr. Edward Kelly, found that it was medicine Montin was taking for his back that had led to a medication-induced psychosis.

When Montin stopped taking the medication, which he had done long before he went to the regional center, the psychosis was gone.

Braaten said the treatment team agreed. Montin had been misdiagnosed for years.

And on July 16, 2013, Hayes County District Judge David Urbom issued a two-page order finding Montin no longer was dangerous to himself or others by reason of mental illness or defect and would not be in the foreseeable future.

Braaten called it a great result, his most satisfying, in a case that never should have had gotten this far.

It's tough, he said. He's sure the people at the regional center had good intentions, and that most of the people are there for valid reasons.

Then there's Montin, who was there just shy of 20 years as psychiatrists and psychologists came and went and relied on his file, which said he was delusional.

"It was an injustice, and he was right from the beginning," Braaten said of Montin.

Last year, the lawyer helped his client load boxes and move out of the regional center, watching as staff hugged the former patient goodbye. Then he walked out with him.

Montin since has returned to Florida, where he has a business cleaning the bottom of boats.

In the lawsuit filed Friday, Gooch said Montin missed the opportunity to marry and have a family, and he missed his mother's funeral when regional center staff could have checked out what Montin was saying with a simple call to the Hayes County court.

Instead, they treated his efforts as symptoms, he wrote.

The suit names 21 former or current regional center doctors, including Hartmann, a program manager and two nurses.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7237 or lpilger@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSpilger.

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