This is devastating...
—this is why letters from prisoners and family members are so important to take seriously—
PEKIN, Ill. –
A former inmate of the Federal Correctional Institute-Pekin alleges in letters to his mother that inmate Adam Montoya begged for medication while in excruciating pain for several days prior to his death on Nov. 13.
Randy Rader was transferred to a California medium-security prison shortly after the death of Montoya, 36, of Albuquerque, N.M., with no explanation for the transfer. He later learned the transfer was for disciplinary reasons, though he claims he did nothing wrong except push the issue about Montoya’s death.
Rader is not alone. Former Pekin prison inmate Jae Eads is now in a Pennsylvania prison. He too believes he was transferred because of his knowledge of what happened at the prison with Montoya, he said.
On Nov. 14, 2009, Rader wrote to his mother, Debbie Rader, in Michigan. He told his mother, “Look, something really bad happened here on 11-13-09. I’m going to give you this name (and prison ID) number. I want you to get Brandon to Google it or whatever on (the) computer for references to this guy’s last name. Try to find his people.”
Montoya arrived at FCI-Pekin on Oct. 26 to serve a 27-month sentence for counterfeiting-related offenses. His scheduled release date was April 18, 2011. Previously he had been incarcerated in a Texas jail, where, according to his father, Juan Montoya, he received all of his medications.
Rader tells his mother that Montoya was his roommate in the “yard” prior to Montoya’s death.
“(Montoya) had only been here for a month or so. (He) just got locked up (for the) first time. He was 37 years old. He was a good guy in for a white-collar crime — stole money from some firm or other embezzlement,” said Rader. “He had a medical condition when he came — a tumor in his head.
“He begged them people to do something for him — over and over. They took him to medical a few days after he begged them so much. He went for about five minutes, maybe 10. He just got worse for the next six days. He pressed the panic button — begged them, told everyone to do something. Mom, he died between 10 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. on Nov. 12 and Nov. 13 sitting up on his bed. I don’t want to go into all of the details, but I would like to tell his people what I know.”
Tazewell County Coroner Dennis Conover said Montoya was bruised in a continuous band around his waist. He said it looked as if Montoya had been beaten, but once the autopsy was completed it was easy to see the bruising was from the internal bleeding.
A Tazewell County coroner’s autopsy report for Montoya revealed that internal bleeding was due to, or a consequence of, a rupture of the spleen. The ruptured spleen was due to or a consequence of B-Cell non-Hodgkins Lymphoma — a cancer of the lymphatic system.
The autopsy showed that 754 milliliters, or 25.49 ounces, of blood had leaked from the spleen into the abdominal cavity. Tumors were noted on the kidney and spleen, and Montoya had multiple enlarged lymph nodes.
Part of autopsy protocol is a toxicology screen. Despite Montoya’s many health issues, the only drug in his system was regular Tylenol, which had not been taken immediately prior to his death because it was found in his urine. There were no prescription pain medications or condition-related drugs in his system, according to the autopsy report.
Montoya’s father, Juan Montoya, said immediately after the death that his son was on medications while at a Texas jail prior to being sent to an Oklahoma prison before being assigned his final destination at the Pekin prison.
Federal Correctional Institution-Pekin Public Information Officer Jay Henderson said Wednesday that he could not answer questions about inmate transfers or inmate health issues, even for Montoya, who is now dead.
Henderson said there have been no changes to protocol for medicine disbursement at the prison because, “There was nothing wrong with the protocol (the prison officials) were using at the time.”
Henderson also said he does not know of any investigation into Montoya’s death. Previously, after the autopsy, Henderson had said there was no need for one because, according to Henderson, the autopsy report labeled the death accidental.
Conover said there is nowhere on the autopsy report that says accidental death. Patients with diseases such as Montoya’s are typically on medication of some kind, said Conover.
Conover has issued protocols to all departments with first responders that in the event of a death the body is not to be moved until the coroner arrives on scene. The prison, he said, ignored those protocols after Montoya died.
Prison personnel, said Conover, ordered paramedics to remove the body from the cell even after the paramedics said they could not. An IV line was started and the body was moved to the outside of the prison gate. Paramedics then called OSF Saint Francis Medical Center and were told to take the body to Pekin Hospital, where Montoya was pronounced dead immediately.
“(Montoya’s) arm was sticking up in the air,” said Conover. “Of course he was dead. He had been dead all night.”
Conover said a new warden has been assigned to the prison, Ricardo Rios. Conover met with him earlier this month. Conover said Rios guaranteed him that the coroner’s office will have total cooperation in the future regarding inmate deaths.
There will be no Tazewell County coroner’s inquest into Montoya’s death, said Conover, but there is an ongoing FBI investigation into the death. FCI-Pekin’s new warden and assistant warden recently met with Conover and confirmed to him the existence of the investigation.
Conover said an FBI investigation had been started immediately after Montoya’s death, but it was halted quickly after the prison said it was a natural death.
“This office did everything it could do without a warden or assistant warden at the prison (at that time),” said Conover. “I just want people to know we’ve done our job.
“My problem is that this man died in agony, asking for medication, and it wasn’t given to him.”
Excerpts from prison letters about the death of inmate Adam Montoya, and the removal to other prisons of inmates who witnessed the alleged events:
• “(Montoya) spoke to his dad on the phone (and) told him he wasn’t getting medical attention at one point. His dad has got money and knows some big people. Mom, something needs to be done. This is the fifth person to get denied medical attention in the last two years that died. They just tell us to drink water, take Ibuprofen — stuff like that. Not all the time, but it goes through spells where they just don’t give a …” Former Pekin inmate Randy Rader to his mother, Debbie Rader, Nov. 14, 2009.
• “They let him die. I’m scared, I was right there and heard it all.” Randy Rader to his mother, Nov. 14, 2009.
• “It’s really messed up to send (Randy Rader) all the way out there (to a California prison) because he’s standing up for Adam. It’s the right thing to do because (Adam) was just allowed to die.” Jae Eads, former Pekin inmate, to Rader’s mother, undated.
• “They might put me on diesel therapy. … Diesel therapy is when they move (an) inmate around for a while — go from one jail to another, so on and so forth on the road. A lot don’t stay in one spot for long. I hope not, but if they do they (are) just digging a bigger hole because I didn’t do what they wanted me to do and because I’m in contact with (Adam Montoya’s mother).” Randy Rader, to his mother, Feb. 2.
• “I filed a (complaint) to region on 2-03-10 and sent it out about (Pekin) transferring me because of me pushing the issue about Adam Montoya dying! A lieutenant pretty much told me, ‘We said you got to know how to pick your battles.’” Randy Rader, Feb. 4, 2010, to his mother.
Montoya’s Death…an inexcusable injustice.
PEKIN DAILY TIMES editorial (Friday, March 5, 2010.), Pekin, ILL.
As reported in Thursday’s edition, an autopsy and toxicology tests revealed that when Montoya died on Nov. 13, 2009, the only trace of medication in his system was a little Tylenol. Montoya was very sick, so where were all the medications that should have been in his system?
Montoya’s family and some of his fellow inmates allege that FCI-Pekin was not providing him the meds he needed. Their claims standing alone would have to be treated with skepticism — after all, you can’t safely trust the word of a prison inmate, and maybe the family was just angling to win a huge civil settlement against the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
But the autopsy results confirm that Montoya really was a gravely sick man, and toxicology has confirmed that he was not getting his meds. The inmates are right: Montoya’s last days had to have been spent in the most excruciating pain, with no one to provide comfort or solace.
We all should be outraged. No one, not even a convicted criminal, no matter how heinous his crimes, should be left to die in agony and alone — not when we have it in our power to prevent it.
As Tazewell County Coroner Dennis Conover said to me, “He should have died under medication in a hospital, and not in agony in a prison.”
There’s just no other way to say it: the uncompassionate way Adam Montoya was treated in his last days, and the manner of his death, is an inexcusable injustice. It doesn’t matter what Montoya did — he was sentenced to 27 months in prison, not to a miserable death.
All of that is bad enough by itself, but the way FCI-Pekin responded after discovering Montoya dead in his cell is even more damning. Instead of notifying the coroner and leaving the death scene intact, the prison ordered paramedics to start an IV — after rigor had plainly set in — and transport the body to a hospital emergency room, despite the paramedics’ objections.
Transporting a dead body violates the most basic protocols in handling a death, interfering with a possible crime scene and making it difficult if not impossible for investigators to establish the true circumstances of a death.
It smells of a cover-up, as did the transfer of inmates such as Randy Rader and Jae Eads, and the prison’s actions couldn’t help but raise suspicions about how Montoya had died. At first Conover thought he might be dealing with a homicide, because when he arrived at Pekin’s ER he saw terrible bruising across Montoya’s abdomen. Thanks to the autopsy, it was determined that Montoya hadn’t been beaten, but instead had suffered a ruptured spleen, a result of his illness.
Conover attributes the prison’s improper response to Montoya’s death to something that has become ingrained in the culture of our federal prisons. Conover calls it the “no one dies in a federal prison” adage.
Conover tells me that in the 13 years that he has worked in the Tazewell County Coroner’s Office (first as chief deputy coroner, then as coroner), the coroner has been asked to respond to the death of an FCI-Pekin inmate only twice. Rather than have an inmate be pronounced dead in prison, the usual practice has been to have an ambulance take the inmate to a hospital — but sometimes, as in the Montoya case, the inmate was already dead before the ambulance was called, Conover says.
Because federal prisons have a high turnover rate for wardens and assistant wardens, more than once the coroner has had to explain proper protocols to new wardens.
It is very encouraging that the new administration at FCI-Pekin has pledged full cooperation with the coroner, but something needs to change in the FBOP’s culture to ensure that the next warden also will be cooperative.
Changes also are needed to ensure that the rights and dignity of the prison inmates are always respected. Yes, convicted criminals have violated the rights and dignity of others, but that cannot excuse our doing the same to them.
When we violate their rights, it’s everyone’s rights that are endangered.
Community editor Jared Olar may be reached at 346-1111, ext. 660, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the Pekin Daily Times.