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Misdiagnosed Man Sues After 20 Years in a Psych Hospital

Why did John Maxwell Montin spend 20 years in psychiatric hospital?

A Florida man who was released last year from a Nebraska psychiatric hospital is now suing the hospital and staff for $22 million due to the misdiagnosis that kept him hospitalized for 20 years. John Maxwell Montin, 52, was arrested in 1992 following an incident in which he reportedly approached a southwestern Nebraska house and told the residents that he was claiming the property which had belonged to his ancestors. After an 11-hour standoff with police, which included an exchange of gunfire, Montin received more than 20 charges, including attempted murder and weapons charges.

Despite an alternate version of events read at his trial (which suggested that the homeowners had possessed the weapons), Montin was found not guilty by reason of insanity for false imprisonment and use of a weapon. The jury dismissed all of the other charges. He was then ordered to be confined to the Lincoln Regional Center in Lincoln, Nebraska. Relying exclusively on initial police reports, hospital staff diagnosed him as suffering from a delusional disorder and treated him with anti-psychotic medication that he eventually discontinued on his own.

Despite the objections of his attorney, John Braaten, and Montin's own insistence that he was not suffering from a delusional disorder, his case remained unchanged despite annual reviews. In 2012, his attorney was finally able to convince Lincoln psychiatrist, Dr. Klaus Hartmann, to review his client's case and read the 500-page transcript of the 1992 trial. He immediately revised his diagnosis of Montin given that the police description of what happened was substantially different from what came out in the trial. Up to that time, Montin was regarded as being delusional for insisting that the police report was mistaken. Even his efforts to be released were treated as psychotic symptoms.

"No matter what (Montin) said about the events that occurred in 1992, it was viewed under the auspices of him being delusional," Braaten told a local newspaper. "We were just banging the drums, and they finally had to start listening. It was an injustice, and he was right from the beginning." While Braaten recognizes that the regional center staff had good intentions, he insists that the misunderstanding could have been easily cleared up by checking trial transcripts.

In 2013, another regional center psychiatrist, Dr. Edward Kelly, concluded that Montin's original bizarre behaviour was due to psychotic behaviour caused by the back medication he had been taken. Since Montin had stopped taking the medication by the time he arrived at the regional center, his psychotic symptoms were completely gone.  

Montin was released after a judge ruled on July 16, 2013 that Montin was not considered dangerous. He has since returned to Florida where has a business cleaning boats.  Still, the 20 years he spent as a psychiatric patient have taken their toll. Not only had he been forced to miss his mother's funeral, but he has been out of society for two decades. In the lawsuit filed on his behalf by Omaha attorney Michael Gooch, twenty-one former and current nurses and doctors are named along with the hospital itself. The $22 million lawsuit is for damages due to his incarceration as well as subjecting him to treatments which were unnecessary and potentially harmful.  

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

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Romeo Vitelli, Ph.D. is a psychologist in private practice in Toronto, Canada.

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