An Oregon weekly newspaper’s battle to gain public records on Anthony Montwheeler’s handling by the state psychiatric board advanced Tuesday when the governor intervened, getting the state agency to drop a lawsuit against the paper and release the requested records, the newspaper reported Tuesday.
The Malheur Enterprise published a lengthy story last week detailing Montwheeler’s statements to the Oregon Psychiatric Security Review Board, saying that he had faked mental illness to avoid prison. The agency filed a lawsuit to prevent the newspaper from getting the documents, but as of Tuesday that lawsuit was stopped and the agency will turn over public records on Montwheeler’s case, the Enterprise reports.
For 20 years, the Psychiatric Security Review Board had jurisdiction over Montwheeler, 49, after he was declared guilty except for insanity in the 1996 kidnapping of his then-wife and son, the Enterprise reports. In December, the board found that Montwheeler had been faking mental illness to avoid prison and ordered him discharged.
According to the newest charges against him, a few weeks later Montwheeler kidnapped his ex-wife Annita Harmon near her Weiser home and fatally stabbed her. He then reportedly fled from police near Ontario, Ore., veering into oncoming traffic and killing a Vale man. David Bates, who was driving to work, prosecutors say. Montwheeler and Bates’ wife were both seriously injured in the Jan. 9 crash.
Now out of the hospital and in jail, Montwheeler is charged in Malheur County with aggravated murder, kidnapping and assault.
The Security Review Board initially claimed it couldn’t release the public records requested by the Enterprise, but the state attorney general disagreed, ordering the agency to turn the records over with limited redactions, the Enterprise reports. The agency chose to fight that order, but under Oregon public records law the board had to sue the newspaper, which made the request, rather than the attorney general.
That quirk of law is “plain wrong,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said in a statement Tuesday, adding that she has directed her staff to explore solutions. The governor’s full statement was attached to the Enterprise’s Tuesday story.
“No one requesting public records should be at risk of being sued by a state agency,” Brown said in the statement, which also said she asked the review board to dismiss the lawsuit against the Enterprise, comply with the state attorney general’s order and release the requested records. The review board “agreed to take these actions immediately,” the governor said.
Montwheeler is scheduled to enter a plea in the murder case April 17.