PEKIN, Ill. – For days before he died in a federal prison, Adam Montoya pleaded with guards to be taken to a doctor, pressing a panic button in his cell over and over to summon help that never came.
An autopsy concluded that the 36-year-old inmate suffered from no fewer than three serious illnesses – cancer, hepatitis and HIV. The cancer ultimately killed him, causing his spleen to burst. Montoya bled to death internally.
But the coroner and a pathologist were more stunned by another finding: The only medication in his system was a trace of over-the-counter pain reliever.
That means Montoya, imprisoned for passing counterfeit checks, had been given nothing to ease the excruciating pain that no doubt wracked his body for days or weeks before death.
“He shouldn’t have died in agony like that,” Coroner Dennis Conover said. “He had been out there long enough that he should have at least died in the hospital.”
The FBI recently completed an investigation into Montoya’s death and gave its findings to the Justice Department, which is reviewing the case. If federal prosecutors conclude that Montoya’s civil rights were violated, they could take action against the prison, its guards or both.
The coroner said guards should have been aware that something was seriously wrong with the inmate. And outside experts agree that the symptoms of cancer and hepatitis would have been hard to miss: dramatic weight loss, a swollen abdomen, yellow eyes.
During Montoya’s final days, he “consistently made requests to the prison for medical attention, and they wouldn’t give it to him,” said his father, Juan Montoya, who described how his son repeatedly punched the panic button. Three inmates corroborated that account in interviews with The Associated Press.
The younger Montoya was taken to the prison clinic one day for “maybe five, 10 minutes,” his father said. “And they gave him Tylenol, and that was it. He suffered a lot.”
The federal prison in Pekin will not discuss Montoya’s death. Prison spokesman Jay Henderson referred questions to the Bureau of Prisons, which denied an AP request for information on Montoya’s medical condition, citing privacy laws.
It isn’t clear whether the prison system, relatives or even Montoya himself knew the full extent of his illness. Montoya’s father had no idea his son had cancer or hepatitis. Inmates who knew him said he told them he had cancer, but they knew nothing of his HIV.
According to its website, the Bureau of Prisons tries to screen the health of new inmates within 24 hours of their arrival. A closer examination within two weeks is required for prisoners with serious, long-term illnesses. But officials have not said whether Montoya was given any kind of exam or whether his medical records made it to Pekin.
Montoya pleaded guilty in May 2009 to counterfeiting commercial checks, credit cards and gift cards. Prosecutors will not say how much money was involved in the scheme, but Montoya was ordered to pay more than $2,000 in restitution.
Montoya, who had a history of methamphetamine abuse, was released while awaiting sentencing and was ordered not to use drugs. At the time, he was living with his father and working for his father’s process-serving business, which delivers legal documents. His father said he was paying Montoya’s bills and paying him about $300 a week.
Then, in mid-June, Adam Montoya was diagnosed with HIV.
“It hit him like a ton of bricks,” his father said.
After the diagnosis, Montoya retreated back into methamphetamine. Following a urine test, he admitted using the drug three times in a month, and he was locked up.