Death still roils Upton Residents question shooting, police handling of aftermath

Commanders back officers

Schmoke schedules community meeting

Frazier urges calm

March 03, 1997|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Marilyn McCraven contributed to this article.

The fatal shooting by police of a gunman on Saturday night continued to be questioned by Upton residents yesterday as top police commanders staunchly defended the officers whose actions nearly triggered a riot.

Neighbors and family members of 24-year-old Sean Freeland Sr. have doubts about the police version of the events and were angry with the way police dealt with them after the shooting.

"Everybody is in shock," said Arlene Weeks, a neighbor and family member. "We can't believe this happened."

The mayor's office scheduled a community meeting tonight in the old Shiloh Baptist Church at Lanvale and Fremont streets to discuss the shooting. Meanwhile, Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier pleaded for calm as he sought to quell tensions in the drug-infested neighborhood on the city's west side.

The commissioner stressed that the officers -- assigned to a squad that targets the city's most violent areas and concentrates on getting guns off the streets -- had been tipped off by a resident that a man was walking around with a gun.

"We were in Upton because we were asked to be there," Frazier said. "I think the important thing now is to step back and let the investigation unfold. We have good relationships with neighborhood associations and the faith community in Upton."

Police yesterday said that Freeland tried several times to shoot one of the officers during a struggle over the weapon in a dark, narrow stairwell, but his gun, loaded with 13 bullets, jammed. A backup officer fired four shots, hitting Freeland in the chest. Police said both officers were hit by "friendly fire" -- bullets from the backup officer's gun.

"We are fortunate that both officers are alive," Frazier said. "The officers have my unqualified support. They did absolutely nothing wrong."

Tensions among residents erupted after the shootings, starting with neighbors and grieving relatives screaming at police and news reporters, and culminating with rocks and bottles being thrown. An unmarked police car had its windows shattered by beer bottles, and extra officers were called in to keep order.

Residents of the 700 block of W. Lanvale St. questioned the police account -- witnessed only by the two officers.

"After the crowd found out he was dead by the police, and his mother was out there but [police] wouldn't let her in and they didn't want to tell her nothing, that's when it hit the fan," said Robert Lockett, 35, who lives across the street.

Several neighbors and relatives said they saw Freeland, who lived with a girlfriend at Eutaw Place and Wilson Street, sitting on the front steps of the rowhouse blowing bubbles with his 4-year-old son, Sean Jr., 4, when a police car pulled up and officers jumped out.

"He looked like he [the policeman] was going to stop me at first, then he saw Sean going into the house, so he followed Sean and kicked the door down," Lockett said. "Then, I heard shots. It was all over in about five seconds."

Police said Freeland has a history of arrests dating at least five years, including one on handgun and first-degree murder charges in 1993 -- a charge of which he was acquitted. He was charged in 1996 with assaulting a police officer and had been arrested four times since 1991 on drug charges. Dispositions of those cases were not available yesterday.

Police officials said that officers Bradley Thomas, 32, a 10-year veteran, and Mark Janicki, 31, who has 11 years on the force, got a tip that Freeland was armed. The officials said Freeland bolted when two officers confronted him in an alley and that he forced open the door to the West Lanvale Street house, where a long-time family friend lives.

Police said Freeland rushed up the stairs, pursued closely by Thomas and Janicki. Frazier said the man turned on a second-floor landing and "stuck a gun in Officer Thomas' chest."

Sgt. John E. Barrick of the homicide unit said Thomas could hear the clicks as Freeland repeatedly pulled the trigger, but the gun didn't fire.

Agent Robert W. Weinhold Jr., a police spokesman, said Thomas "put his hands on the weapon in an attempt to push the weapon downward. Fortunately, Officer Janicki realizes that his partner's life is in danger and quickly begins to fire multiple shots at the suspect."

One bullet fired by Janicki struck Thomas in the right thumb; a second ricocheted and hit Janicki in the right foot.

Police said the trio fought and tumbled down the stairs. Freeland was pronounced dead at the scene; his body ended up in the vestibule of the rowhouse and was visible to onlookers standing outside. He was hit three or four times in the chest, police said.

Thomas was released Saturday night from the Maryland Shock Trauma Center; Janicki was in good condition at the same hospital last night.

Weeks, the grandmother of Freeland's son, was told of the shooting by a friend. She found Freeland lying at the foot of the steps near the entrance. Police "told me to get back because two officers had been shot," she said.

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