Autopsy is completed on man who died in cell

Prosecutor to review results before decision is made on charges

Anne Arundel

March 28, 2001|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Three months after a Calvert County man died of antifreeze poisoning while in custody, the Anne Arundel County Police Department has received autopsy results and is preparing to forward the case to the state's attorney's office for a decision on whether criminal charges against officers are warranted.

Although investigators have known for months that Philip A. Montgomery, 20, of Lusby died of antifreeze poisoning while being held on drunken-driving charges in a Southern District cell, police officials said they needed the state medical examiner's final report before the case could be turned over to the county prosecutor.

"The autopsy was critical," Lt. Joseph E. Jordan, a department spokesman, said yesterday. "We needed it before we could submit the case to the state's attorney's office for review."

Police officials said they expect the findings to be forwarded to State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee by next week.

"I'm glad they're pursuing it," said Betty Montgomery, Montgomery's mother, who remains critical of the way police handled her son's arrest and investigated his death.

Montgomery said she doesn't understand how police decided that her son didn't need medical attention after he ran his car off Route 4 near the Arundel-Calvert County line Dec. 15.

She told police that her son had a history of mental illness, but they didn't summon the mobile crisis team, a unit of mental health professionals on call to help police officers. Montgomery, an electrician's apprentice, had received a diagnosis of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

He told officers that he had drunk antifreeze, a poison, before he was charged with drunken driving. Police officials have not said whether they think officers ignored the warning or misunderstood it.

The arresting officer and a shift lieutenant were placed on paid administrative leave in January because investigators concluded that department policies had been violated. Neither the identities of the officers nor the nature of the violations have been divulged.

Regulations forbid leaving an unconscious prisoner in a cell without medical attention. "This includes intoxicated prisoners," the department's regulations specify.

Montgomery fell asleep and began snoring loudly in the patrol car as he was being driven to the district station in Edgewater, police said. He remained unconscious and was heard snoring for more than five hours, police said, until shortly before officers noticed that he had stopped breathing.

The outcome of the state's attorney's review will dictate how the department proceeds with its investigation, Jordan said.

No disciplinary hearings will be scheduled until the state's attorney decides whether to file criminal charges.

"I think we're nearing the end," Jordan said.

The medical examiner's office said the cause of death was ethylene glycol intoxication brought on by drinking antifreeze. The complete report will not be made public until the police investigation is completed, said J. B. Hanson, a spokesman for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Betty Montgomery said she received the autopsy report about a week ago and was disturbed that it did not include the concentration of antifreeze found in her son's blood.

It took an unusually long time to complete the autopsy, in part because some of the laboratory work was sent out of state, Hanson said, and the results were further delayed because the samples were submitted around the year-end holidays.

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