Police studying Dundalk standoff

Detectives examine whether fugitive got help in eluding search

March 25, 2000|By Dan Thanh Dang and David Nitkin | Dan Thanh Dang and David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

The two Baltimore County police officers who shot and killed Joseph C. Palczynski to end a four-day hostage standoff are on paid administrative leave -- a routine procedure -- as the department conducts a series of lengthy investigations into the case.

Homicide detectives are examining whether anyone helped the 31-year-old unemployed electrician elude police. He was accused of two kidnappings and four killings, among other acts of violence. The rampage started, police said, when Palczynski abducted his ex-girlfriend, Tracy Whitehead, from a Bowleys Quarters apartment March 7.

The investigation is running concurrently with probes into how officers conducted themselves during the standoff and the details behind how Palczynski was shot.

"We've got four people killed, a young child shot in the jaw, carjackings, kidnappings and hostages taken," Lt. Kevin B. Novak, a county police spokesman, said yesterday. "The entire incident is part of this investigation.

"It will take some time."

Also yesterday, the Red Cross and the county sponsored a "crisis management briefing" for those who live near the standoff site. The meeting was designed to help those who are experiencing emotional distress.

Jeffrey Lating, a clinical psychologist at Loyola College, said neighbors may re-experience the events, have nightmares and flashbacks, or a general feeling of numbness resulting in a lack of motivation.

"I slept four hours during the entire four days," said Debra Williams, 45, of Belmont Avenue. "I was frightened and I don't have the same feeling of safety."

Rick Ottenstein, a psychologist with the Red Cross, said "people's vision of the world and of their own personal safety will change. What we're going to try to do tonight is work out those emotions."

Web sites and radio talk shows brimmed yesterday with speculation over how many times tactical officers shot Palczynski when they stormed the rowhouse apartment on Lange Street in Dundalk Tuesday night. His captives were his ex-girlfriend's mother, Lynn Whitehead, her mother's boyfriend, Andy McCord, and their son, Bradley McCord.

Police said Palczynski was asleep in the living room when tactical Officers Frank D. Barile, 36, and Robert O. Jones, 37, entered the first-floor apartment. The officers fired their weapons -- MP-5 nine millimeter submachine guns -- when Palczynski, who had a .357 Magnum revolver lying on his stomach -- began to rise from the sofa, police said. Two guns were lying nearby on the floor.

A source outside the police department said that Palczynski was hit by about 40 bullets. Attempts to confirm the number with police yesterday were unsuccessful. A police source would say only that the number was "too high," and would not expand on the official departmental line that Palczynski died from "multiple gunshot wounds."

An MP-5 submachine gun fires about 800 rounds per minute or 13.3 rounds per second, according to a U.S. Marine Corps Web site.

An autopsy conducted by the state medical examiner called the cause of death "suicide by police." Palczynski's body was cremated Thursday, according to his longtime friend and attorney, David Henninger.

Yesterday, Novak said that once the homicide unit completes its investigation, a report will be submitted to the state's attorney's office for review and a ruling on whether charges should be filed. The case will then return to the police department for an administrative ruling on whether the shooting was justified.

Barile and Jones, who are on leave with pay, will return to full-time duty on Monday.

Barile, a 13-year veteran, has been assigned to the tactical unit for more than nine years. He has received numerous awards during his career, including two Silver Stars, two Commendation Awards and two certificates of appreciation. In addition, he was honored with the Baltimore County Police Foundation's Valor Award and a certificate of appreciation from the U.S. Secret Service.

Jones is a 14-year veteran with nearly 10 years on the tactical unit. He has received the Silver Star and certificates of appreciation from the Secret Service.

"I know from talking to the officers, they feel that they did what they were trained to do," said Michael Marshall, a Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4 attorney who is representing both officers.

Police said the investigation into whether Palczynski received help has turned up no leads. He was on the run for 11 days after allegedly kidnapping Tracy Whitehead.

Police also are looking into complaints filed with the Internal Affairs Unit by Lange Street residents who allege that SWAT team members drank alcohol and ate food from homes that were used for surveillance.

Novak called the allegations, "Highly irregular, bordering on the preposterous."

"These officers are highly trained professionals who have to remain alert and have to react and be ready to act at a second's notice," Novak said.

Yesterday, Baltimore County insurance adjusters continued to help neighbors replace property damaged during the siege.

One family has already received a new sofa and chair costing $1,000, and several apartments will get new carpeting, said Elise Armacost, a county spokeswoman. Among other items the county is replacing: a television stand, toys, fencing and food.

"There are a fair number of houses that were affected," both by gunshots and police tactical teams using homes as staging areas, she said. Seventeen claims had been filed by yesterday, and county officials expect only a few more. Figures on total property damage have not been compiled.

Sun staff writers David Nitkin and Lynn Anderson contributed to this article.

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