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Arundel police officer's firing is upheld by appeals court


Maryland's second-highest court upheld this week the firing of an Anne Arundel County police officer who did not call an ambulance in 2000 for a prisoner who later died from ingesting antifreeze.

A panel of the Court of Special Appeals agreed with the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court's decision that police Chief P. Thomas Shanahan acted properly in firing Officer Charles R. Atwell II a year after Philip Montgomery, 20, died.

Atwell, a 28-year veteran officer, maintained that he thought Montgomery was drunk. Through his lawyer, he declined to comment yesterday.

Mark W. Howes, Atwell's lawyer, said in a statement that the ruling was "especially troubling" because a jury in U.S. District Court in Baltimore exonerated Atwell last year in a civil lawsuit filed by Montgomery's widow. That decision is on appeal, Howes said. He also said the ruling nullifies the protections of the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights and that he might ask the full Court of Special Appeals to hear the case or turn to the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals.

The ruling was praised. "I think it was a common-sense decision," said Assistant County Attorney Julie Sweeney.

Montgomery was arrested in December 2000 on suspicion of drunken driving after he crashed his car into a guardrail on Route 4 in Lothian.

Atwell did not try to administer a breath test. Montgomery told an off-duty Washington police officer who stopped that he had consumed antifreeze, but the officer testified he thought that was slang for alcohol.

Montgomery was mentally ill and was living with his mother in Lusby, an attorney for Montgomery's widow said last year.

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