Police won't face action

No criminal charges for four officers in man's death in cell

Family plans lawsuit

Internal investigation finished, but review continues, official says

May 17, 2001|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

No criminal charges will be lodged against four Anne Arundel police officers involved in the December arrest of a 20-year-old Calvert County man who died in a Southern District holding cell, authorities said yesterday.

The Anne Arundel state's attorney found no evidence of corruption, intentional misconduct or gross negligence by the officers involved in the mistaken arrest of Philip A. Montgomery on charges of drunken driving. Montgomery drank antifreeze - a poison that caused his death after he lay in a police station cell for more than five hours without medical attention, according to an autopsy.

Despite the decision not to prosecute, authorities have concluded that there were violations of police department regulations - before and after Montgomery's death Dec. 15.

Police officials intensified their review of the incident in recent weeks, suspending two more officers in addition to the arresting officer and a lieutenant who were temporarily suspended and reassigned to paid administrative duties in January.

Attorney Angelo Castelli, who is representing Montgomery's family, including the man's wife, Minina D. Craig Montgomery, said that he was not surprised by the prosecutor's decision not file criminal charges. "In any criminal prosecution, it's difficult to prove there's intent," he said.

But Betty Montgomery said she believes the police made grave errors that cost her son his life. "There's a difference between criminal intent and criminal negligence," Montgomery said. "I think the assistant state's attorney who reviewed this case knows the officers screwed up and continued to screw up after my son died. I'm not surprised that [the prosecutor] found the officers didn't intend to cause Philip's death. ... But there still has to be action taken."

Once county attorneys release recordings of 911 tapes, police reports and investigative documents related to the case, Castelli said, he plans to file a wrongful death lawsuit and perhaps a federal civil rights suit.

Police have made public only an outline of how officers responded in the Montgomery case.

The day of the incident, an off-duty District of Columbia officer spotted Montgomery about 4 p.m. driving north on Route 4 in Lothian, and saw his beige 1996 Chevrolet Prism run the highway, veer into a guardrail and swerve back onto the road. Montgomery, an electrician's apprentice, stopped on Old Route 4, where the off-duty officer reportedly detained him and called for Anne Arundel police on a cellular telephone.

In several written statements that have not been made public, the D.C. officer has maintained he told an Anne Arundel officer that Montgomery said he drank antifreeze, sources familiar with the department investigation said.

But officers acted on the suspicion that he had been drinking vodka and orange juice, after finding a juice container in the car.

Police confirmed that the officers did not administer a breathalyzer or field sobriety test. Despite the fact that Montgomery had crashed his car, officers did not call for an ambulance, according to county 911 records.

Montgomery fell asleep in the police cruiser on his way to Southern District, where a sergeant helped get him into the building.

Montgomery was placed in a holding cell where he reportedly slept while officers periodically checked on him. Although suspects may doze in holding cells, the regulations state that no prisoner should be allowed to remain in a cell unconscious. "This includes intoxicated prisoners," the police manual specifies.

Betty Montgomery was called by police about 6 p.m. and told that her son was drunk and "sleeping it off." She said she told officers that her son had a history of mental illness - a warning she said police dismissed.

An officer checked on Montgomery about 10 p.m., found that he was not breathing, and tried to resuscitate him, police said.

Toxicology results indicated that he died from ethylene glycol intoxication, a kidney-corroding condition caused by antifreeze.

In the aftermath of the death, officers might also have made mistakes, including throwing the juice bottle from Montgomery's car into a trash bin. Detectives were able to retrieve it later.

All of the department's investigations into the death have been concluded, Lt. Joseph Jordan, a police spokesman, said, But a review of the matter is continuing, he said.

Once the internal affairs unit issues recommendations, Police Chief P. Thomas Shanahan will decide on disciplinary action - which could range from suspension without pay to dismissal from the force. Shanahan is expected to make his decision as early as next week.

Jordan said any officer disciplined in the incident can accept the punishment or request a hearing before a trial board, usually made up of two commanders and someone who holds the same rank as the officer involved. The convening of a trial board is a public proceeding.

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