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DOJ Finds No Wrongdoing After Prisoner Dies Due to Grossly Inadequate Medical Care

Prison officials at the Federal Correctional Institution in Pekin, Illinois, a medium-security facility, were the subject of an FBI investigation related to a prisoner who died in agony after being denied medical care.

Adam Montoya, 36, was not at FCI Pekin long – a mere 18 days – before his spleen ruptured, killing him on November 13, 2009. He was serving a 27-month sentence for counterfeiting and probation violations.

During his short stay Montoya repeatedly begged for help, according to reports from other prisoners. He was seen once by medical staff but only for 10 minutes. They told him he had the flu; one staff member allegedly told him to “man up” and stop complaining.

Montoya was suffering from HIV, cancer and hepatitis. According to the coroner’s report, however, the only medication in Montoya’s system was a trace of Tylenol. There was no evidence that he had received stronger pain medication or his HIV meds.

“He shouldn’t have died in agony like that,” said Dennis Conover, the coroner. “He had been out there long enough that he should have at least died in the hospital.”

Montoya’s symptoms of hepatitis and cancer were obvious – yellow eyes, swelling in the abdominal region and rapid weight loss. He advised prison staff that he had “severe abdominal pain,” and repeatedly pressed the panic button in his cell to request medical help.

Montoya had complained of difficulty breathing and numbness in his fingers at 10:00 p.m. the day before he died. Guards told him he would not be seen by medical staff until the next day. He was found in his cell, dead, in the morning. An autopsy determined that Montoya had a large tumor that had taken over his spleen, which was almost ten times its normal weight. He bled to death after his spleen ruptured. [See: PLN, Feb. 2011, p.36].

The FBI investigated and sent its report of the incident to the U.S. Department of Justice, though no action was taken against prison officials who denied Montoya medical care.
His family filed a wrongful death and personal injury claim with the Justice Department under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which was denied on May 19, 2011.

“We can’t prove that he died because of negligence; we can prove he suffered. But what’s that worth?” asked the family’s attorney, Ron Hanna. “The real question is, is it economically feasible to file a lawsuit in federal court when the recoverable damages are this guy’s suffering?”

Apparently Montoya’s family felt that his unnecessary suffering and death were in fact worth something – if nothing else, to hold the federal prison system accountable.
Montoya’s father, Juan Montoya, filed suit against the Bureau of Prisons and various prison officials on November 10, 2011, arguing that the defendants were deliberately indifferent to Montoya’s serious medical needs. See: Montoya v. Bureau of Prisons, U.S.D.C. (C.D. Ill.), Case No. 1:11-cv-01414-JBM-JAG.

Juan Montoya criticized prison officials who ignored his son’s pleas for help while he was dying. “They abuse their power and authority; they take it out on the inmates,” he said.

Sources:,, Huffington Post,

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Related legal case

Montoya v. Bureau of Prisons