Weapon in killing traced to Pa. Police told Upton gun was traded for cocaine

March 18, 1997|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

The handgun that Sean Freeland Sr. pointed at a police officer before he was fatally shot March 1 in Upton had been stolen in Pennsylvania and traded for cocaine on the streets of Baltimore, authorities said yesterday.

Local and federal police said they had not made an arrest in the Jan. 28 burglary in New Freedom, Pa., and did not exactly know how the gun made its way to Baltimore or into the hands of Freeland.

But with the help of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and informants, investigators said they have traced the 9 mm Taurus semiautomatic handgun from a wholesaler in Miami to several dealers in Pennsylvania. The gun was legally bought by a New Freedom resident who lives in a ranch-style house in a quiet town of 2,100 people, about 15 miles south of York.

After the gun was taken in a burglary, police said the weapon probably changed hands several times -- once being traded, informants told police, for an "Eightball," a mixture of cocaine and heroin -- before the deadly night in Upton that nearly ended in a riot.

"Law enforcement recognizes the fact that firearms make their way into criminal hands in Baltimore City by way of bartering, with narcotics being one of the products of the transaction," said Agent Robert W. Weinhold Jr., a city police spokesman. "Drugs and weapons go hand in hand."

Handguns were used in 257 of the 331 slayings in Baltimore last year. That same year, police seized about 4,000 weapons. Since January, city police have seized 1,124 guns, up from 939 at the same time in 1996.

Police, who said they had gotten a tip that Freeland was armed, said they shot the 23-year-old after chasing him into a house on West Lanvale Street. They said he pointed the handgun at the chest of one of the officers, leading to a struggle over the weapon.

Police said Freeland pulled the trigger several times, but the gun -- loaded with 13 bullets -- didn't fire because it had 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.

The Saturday night shooting angered neighborhood residents and nearly led to a riot as hundreds of people gathered to watch the police investigation. Many threw rocks and bottles, breaking the windows on one unmarked police car, and shots reportedly were fired at television news vans.

Freeland's family still is angry about the shooting, complaining that witnesses told them Freeland was sitting on his front steps blowing bubbles with his child when police chased him inside.

How Freeland got the gun remains a question. But ATF Agent Sheree Mixell said the 9 mm Taurus, which retails for $200 to $300 and is described as a middle-of-the line handgun, led them to Miami.

From a wholesaler in Florida, the weapon was shipped to a gun shop in New Freedom. It was resold several times among gun shops before it was bought and legally registered three years ago by resident Kevin M. Clark Sr.

Clark was out of town yesterday, but his 15-year-old son, Kevin M. Clark Jr., said he and his father used the gun for target practice at a gun club near their home. Kevin said the Taurus was the only handgun among several rifles and shotguns that the family owns.

Lt. Elmer E. Wolf of the Southern Police Department in Pennsylvania said Clark's wife stepped out for about an hour in the morning of Jan. 28 and returned home to find a man standing in the family room, holding the gun and jewelry.

"He spoke with her briefly and walked past her out the front door," Wolf said. He said the burglar got in by breaking a basement window and used a screwdriver to pry open a locked box in the basement where the gun was stored.

Pub Date: 3/18/97

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