Dead man's family haunted by questions

Suicidal 20-year-old died in custody of Anne Arundel police

May 20, 2001|By Laura Barnhardt | By Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

At some point in the days before he died in an Anne Arundel County holding cell, 20-year-old Philip A. Montgomery wrote down some of his thoughts.

"Psychosis?" he began.

"Color, light ... of all things rhythm," trailed down the page of white paper his mother found crumpled in his bedroom at their Cape Cod home in Lusby.

"God?" he had written along the side.

These notes were scrawled by a young man who struggled for years with serious mental illness and for an unknown reason swallowed poison that caused his death. As authorities investigate the tragedy, his questions seem overshadowed by new ones raised about how he could have died this way - alone, a few days before Christmas while in police custody.

Why was he arrested Dec. 15 for suspected drunken driving after he told an off-duty police officer at the scene that he had drunk lethal antifreeze? Why was he left in a Southern District cell in Edgewater for more than five hours instead of being taken to a hospital? Why was he allowed to sleep in the holding cell against police policy?

The state's attorney's office decided last week not to file criminal charges against the four officers in connection with the case. But investigators found numerous violations of police regulations - both before and after Montgomery's death.

Now, family, friends and colleagues are left to sort through their memories of Montgomery, recalling the highs and lows of his life, examining his days as a student and then a sailor and a newlywed, attempting to find their own answers.

Betty Montgomery believes her son's problems began in his teen years, shortly after she and his father divorced. He argued with her about little things and was in a few fights. In his senior year, he stopped going to high school for six weeks, a period during which she now believes her son was suffering from a mental disorder.

At the time, though, everyone, including her, dismissed his problems as typical teenage rebellion.

The juvenile court to which Montgomery was sent for fighting never ordered a psychiatric evaluation, his mother said, adding, "He was ordered to go to counseling, but after a few sessions, even the counselor said there was no point, because he didn't want to be there."

A 1998 graduate of Calvert High School, Montgomery played in one of the two high school bagpipe bands in Maryland.

`Everyone loved him'

He was also in the school's ROTC program with his friend Stephen Gray, who now studies mathematics at Virginia Tech. Gray remembers his friend as creative and in command of "one of the most diverse vocabularies."

When one of their friends would make an observation, Montgomery would always deadpan, "Is that a fact?"

"You wanted to strangle him, but you couldn't help but laugh," Gray recalled. "Everyone loved him."

Teachers and friends said they had no idea he had any major problems. He wasn't sure what to do for a living, but about a year after graduation, Montgomery joined the Navy, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.

At the Navy's linguist school, the blond, 6-foot-tall sailor met the woman he would marry, Minina D. Craig of Connecticut. They were watching television at the dorms and started talking, she said.

Less than a year later, they were engaged. They loved music and each other, she said.

They were married in March 2000 on a beach called Lovers' Point near Monterey, Calif., before a handful of close friends. They all went to an Italian restaurant afterward. By then, it was apparent that Montgomery wasn't happy in the Navy.

Philip Montgomery's instructors were trying to persuade him not to quit. But then he got into a fistfight with an officer, according to Navy sources and his family. At that point, Montgomery was given a less-than-honorable discharge.

In June, Montgomery went on to Hawaii, where his wife, also a Navy linguist, was soon to be stationed. He was looking for a job and an apartment for them.

Diagnosis of schizophrenia

But several weeks after arriving there, he was admitted to a hospital. His roommate had called police when Montgomery seemed to have lost touch with reality and wasn't responding when talked to. He was diagnosed and treated for schizophrenia - a disorder characterized by delusions, behavioral problems and withdrawal.

Although Montgomery had passed a Navy psychological screening before his discharge, his mother said one of the last things he did was to fill out paperwork requesting that his service record be changed to show a medical discharge.

That summer was the first time his wife, now 23, had heard about her husband's mental illness, she said, her voice strained.

After he was released from the hospital, she said, "We decided that he would go home, because he had trouble finding a good-paying job here." Although they would be separated again, they began planning their reunion before he had left for Maryland, she said.

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