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A Santa Rosa man contends his civil rights were violated when a tape of a sexually explicit jailhouse phone call between the man and his secret male lover was played for his girlfriend.

Richard A. Montgomery, 44, asked for assistance this month from the Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services after the matter was investigated by the Sonoma County grand jury.

The grand jury found a Sonoma County sheriff's detective may have broken the law when he played the recorded conversation for Montgomery's girlfriend during an investigation into a 2011 theft case.

Montgomery, who has a long criminal record, eventually pleaded no contest to five counts of felony elder theft and burglary related to a home repair business. He is now serving a 10-year prison sentence.

Montgomery contends the detective shared the recording with his girlfriend, a potential witness in the theft case, to gain her trust and show her she was being manipulated.

His lover, a 71-year-old Santa Rosa man who asked to be identified only by his first name, Jon, said Montgomery had been keeping his sexual orientation secret until the deputy exposed him to "get his girlfriend pissed off."

"I think he (the detective) overstepped his bounds," said Jon, who requested anonymity because he has not publicly disclosed his sexual orientation.

Until that time, Montgomery had introduced Jon to friends as his foster father, Jon said. Their relationship was exposed, he said, when the deputy played the conversation for Montgomery's girlfriend and told her they were having an affair.

The grand jury picked up the case after receiving complaints from the two men.

It urged the Sheriff's Office to develop policies on sharing recorded conversations with third parties. The panel also called on prosecutors to review the case for possible criminal wrongdoing.

Montgomery followed up with a July 4 letter to District Attorney Jill Ravitch, asking her to "take a fair and unbiased look" into the conduct of the deputy in his case and others.

Montgomery expressed frustration with the Sheriff's Office, which investigated his claim and found no wrongdoing.

"The District Attorney's Office should question and fully investigate this man's previous criminal investigations in other cases he may have pursued for the sole purpose of a conviction or personal vindictiveness," Montgomery said in a letter from Avenal State Prison.

Ravitch said her office was looking into the matter and would issue a report in 60 to 90 days. She would not discuss details.

Sheriff's officials said their response would be out in the next few weeks.

Assistant Sheriff Lorenzo Duenas said the department consulted county attorneys, who opined that the deputy's actions were legal.

In general, he said, inmates have no expectation of privacy while in jail. Phone conversations are routinely recorded and can be used as evidence at trial.

However, the grand jury found the sharing of communications with third parties, especially potential witnesses, is not legal.

Further, the panel found prosecutors warned the deputy not to share the conversation with the girlfriend because it could give the appearance of witness tampering.

The prosecutor, who was not named in the grand jury report, said she advised the deputy, who was also unnamed, to seek counsel in the matter but he did not, the report said.

Also, the Sheriff's Office provided conflicting information to the grand jury about the legality of disclosing third-party conversations, according to the report.

After neither deputies nor prosecutors could cite relevant statutes, the panel consulted a private defense attorney who said it was a violation of "both the letter and the spirit of the law."

The attorney said conversations can only be disclosed to third parties to prevent new crimes from happening or to maintain jail security. Contents cannot be shared to prejudice witnesses or coerce cooperation, the lawyer found.