Accused police officer found hanged in jail

March 15, 1995|By Kate Shatzkin and Peter Hermann | Kate Shatzkin and Peter Hermann,Sun Staff Writers Sun staff writer Jay Apperson contributed to this article.

A veteran policeman who authorities say hanged himself in jail yesterday morning after killing his wife and a friend had been recommended for suicide watch by a District Court judge, but the word never reached jail officials.

No one took bedsheets from Joseph E. Reynolds, a Baltimore police officer for more than 20 years who joined the force of a small Cecil County town two years ago, when he went into protective custody at Baltimore City Detention Center Monday night.

Yesterday morning, Officer Reynolds apparently tied several slip knots in one sheet around his neck, anchored another sheet over the first and asphyxiated himself by tying the sheets to the top of his cell bars.

Another inmate, Michael Edward Reiriz, charged in August with beating his grandparents to death in their Guilford home, was delivering breakfast trays about 7 a.m. when he saw Officer Reynolds hanging in his cell and alerted officers, jail sources said.

Officer Reynolds was charged with shooting John Francis Myers, 39, in the head as he walked out of a restroom at the Ham-o-lea Pleasure Club, a social club in the 4300 block of Harford Road, about 3:20 a.m. Sunday. He also was charged with shooting his wife, Melanie Martha Reynolds, 44, in the neck moments later.

Detectives said Officer Reynolds made comments accusing his wife of having an affair just before shooting her. But they said they have found no evidence to indicate that Mrs. Reynolds and Mr. Myers were romantically involved.

At a bail hearing Monday afternoon at Baltimore's Eastside District Court, an assistant state's attorney told Judge Joseph A. Ciotola that Officer Reynolds "has indicated verbally the fact that he is considering killing himself."

Judge Ciotola ordered a psychiatric evaluation that was to have been conducted today. During the hearing, Judge Ciotola said, apparently to a clerk, "Alert the warden or the director . . . of his tendencies."

But court records, some of which , accompanied Officer Reynolds to the detention center, show no indication of the judge's wishes. A document headed "Commitment Pending Hearing" notes "No restrictions imposed" on the officer's confinement.

After arriving at the jail about 6:30 p.m. Monday, Officer Reynolds underwent a physical examination by a doctor and standard mental health screening by a nurse, including a suicide-prevention questionnaire, said LaMont W. Flanagan, who oversees the jail as the state's commissioner of pretrial detention and services.

Neither the nurse nor the doctor noticed any unusual behavior from the prisoner, Mr. Flanagan said. Moreover, Officer Reynolds "said no, no, no" to every question about whether he wanted to kill himself or needed help, Mr. Flanagan said.

Officer Reynolds was placed in protective custody because he was a police officer. Had he been on suicide watch in the jail infirmary, he would have been under constant observation, with recorded checks every 15 minutes. His sheets would have been taken and he would have been given a paper gown, Mr. Flanagan said.

District Court personnel scrambled yesterday to figure out why the judge's words never made it onto paper.

Judge Ciotola, a retired administrative judge of the District Court who fills in for other judges, said yesterday that he felt sadness but no responsibility for Officer Reynolds' death.

"I don't see the individual's commitment [papers]; it comes through the computer," the judge said. "I'm just a voice up there."

He noted that correctional officers were in the courtroom to escort Officer Reynolds, and he implied that they could have passed the word along to the jail. "I mentioned it there and talked to them on the record," he said. "I think it's sad when people are charged with homicide and take their own life, because we can't judge that."

Henry L. Belsky, a police union lawyer who was representing Officer Reynolds, said the accused man made his intentions clear at a meeting Sunday in an interrogation room at the city Police Department's homicide unit. He said the officer announced that he wanted to be reunited with his slain wife.

"He said, 'You don't have to worry about this. I'm going to take care of it.' I said, 'Don't do it. We can work this thing through,' " Mr. Belsky recalled yesterday.

Mr. Belsky said he and family members had not decided whether to sue the state over Officer Reynolds' death. "Every precaution should have been taken to see that this guy didn't kill himself," the lawyer said.

What Mr. Flanagan called an "instructional note" was found in Officer Reynolds' pocket yesterday. It tells relatives how to dispose of his belongings and business affairs but gives no hint about the slayings or suicide.

Relatives of the officer and of Mr. Myers could not be reached for comment yesterday. Kelly Burke, sister-in-law of Melanie Martha Reynolds, called The Sun Tuesday and read a statement. "We're all still in a state of shock," she said. "We have a lot of unanswered questions."

Sam Walters, a retired city police officer who runs the Cop Shop, a police supply store in downtown Baltimore, said he worked with Officer Reynolds for several years in the Eastern District.

"He was very quiet," Mr. Walters said. "He was very laid-back. He was a very good police officer. He made people feel very comfortable on the street by his calm presence."

Maj. Alvin Winkler, the former commander of the Eastern District and now head of the traffic section, said he first met Officer Reynolds when he was assigned to the tactical section.

"I have been in shock over him for the past couple of days," the major said. "One never knows what goes through people's minds."

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