Two officers suspended in probe of prisoner's death in holding cell

Policies weren't followed, police say

January 18, 2001|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Two Anne Arundel County police officers have been suspended from law enforcement duties in connection with the death last month of a 20-year-old prisoner in a Southern District holding cell, the department said yesterday.

The officers, whose identities were not divulged, were ordered to turn in their badges and weapons Tuesday after a preliminary internal investigation concluded that department policies on the handling of inmates might not have been followed, said Lt. Joseph Jordan, a police spokesman.

The prisoner, electrician's apprentice Philip Anselm Montgomery of Lusby, in Calvert County, might have been in a "psychotic episode," his mother has said, and not highly intoxicated, as police had suspected when he was arrested.

Police said Montgomery was put into a holding cell at the station in Edgewater to "sober up" about 4:30 p.m. Dec. 15, an hour after he was arrested by an off-duty District of Columbia officer who had seen Montgomery's car run off the northbound lanes of Route 4 crossing the Calvert-Anne Arundel border.

Police say Montgomery was sleeping and that officers had checked on him, as required, at least every 30 minutes until 10 p.m., when he was found to have stopped breathing. An officer performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on him, but attempts to revive him failed. He was pronounced dead at 11:05 p.m. at Anne Arundel Medical Center, police said.

Jordan said that because the investigation is continuing, the department would not say what policy might have been violated by the officers. The officers were not being identified, he said, because their suspension is considered a personnel matter until the investigation is concluded.

"It's a very sensitive internal investigation," Jordan said. "We can't release information that might hamper it."

The two officers have been reassigned to administrative duties that do not involve dealing with the public until the investigation is complete, Jordan said.

Betty Montgomery, the prisoner's mother, has said she was notified that he was in custody about two hours after his arrest and that she told police he had been hospitalized twice in the previous six months because of mental illness.

"They had all the information. Philip told the first officer that he had drank antifreeze," she said in a telephone interview , adding that the off-duty officer had passed that information on to the county officer who made the arrest.

She has said that her son had received a diagnosis of schizophrenia in May, two months after he was discharged from the Navy in Hawaii. He had been treated for bipolar disorder and depression, and had stopped taking anti-psychotic medication two months before the arrest because he felt he didn't need it, she said.

She expressed outrage that no other action had been taken against the officers: "I'm not happy about how they've handled any of this."

The county has a program that puts mental health professionals in the field to back up police, but officers did not call on that mobile crisis team.

Mental health professionals have said that a psychotic episode can resemble drunkenness, because either can impair speech. Police reports indicate that Montgomery had trouble walking when he was arrested and was charged with drunken driving. Reports did not mention any odor of alcohol.

Montgomery was not given a field sobriety test, police said, because his motor skills were so impaired that they feared he might hurt himself. Police said they are awaiting final toxicology and autopsy results from the state medical examiner's office.

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