Dundalk hostage family takes steps to sue county

Notice claims police failed to protect them from fugitive

July 01, 2000|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

The family held hostage in its Dundalk apartment by Joseph C. Palczynski has taken the first step toward suing the Baltimore County government for its police department's alleged failure to protect the family from the heavily armed fugitive.

In a formal "notice of claim" filed with the county, Andy McCord, Lynn Whitehead and their son, Bradley McCord, say county police reneged on a promise to protect them from Palczynski, who kidnapped Whitehead's daughter, Tracy, killed four people and led authorities on a 10-day manhunt.

Palczynski stormed into the family's apartment and held the three hostage for four days. The ordeal came to an end March 21 when police killed Palczynski and the family members escaped without serious injury.

Yesterday, as she unpacked belongings and moved back into the apartment, Lynn Whitehead said, "Sometimes I feel like we were used for bait. I really feel like that."

Whitehead said the family, which has been living with relatives in Essex, was reluctantly returning to the $400-a-month apartment because it had been unable to find housing elsewhere. She said credit problems contributed to an inability to secure a lease at other apartments.

Yesterday afternoon, Whitehead sorted through boxes that contained, among other items, a snapshot of Palczynski on a personal watercraft and what she said were Palczynski's kickboxing gloves and gear.

As she did, she contemplated the notion of re-establishing a household in what was, not so long ago, a crime scene.

"I don't feel so bad right now, but I don't know how it's going to be tonight," she said. "Memories. As a matter of fact, it [Palczynski's home invasion] happened on a Friday, and today's Friday."

There is new, gray carpet, and the walls have been repaired. But she still has the same television - the one, she says, on which she and Palczynski watched news reports of his siege.

She said that at one point, as they watched a department spokesman insist that police had adequately guarded the apartment, "Joby started laughing. He was telling us how easy it was to come from the [stolen] van and walk up to the hallway."

Authorities say Palczynski stole guns and a van from a home in Chase shortly before driving to Dundalk and taking the hostages.

County police have said they offered to place an officer in the family's home but the idea was rejected.

Police spokesman Bill Toohey said yesterday, "We're not backing away from our original statement," and added that the department would not comment on the notice of claim.

The family's lawyer, Paul Mark Sandler, said yesterday that he is awaiting a response from the county as part of an investigation that will determine whether a suit will be brought.

A notice of claim is a required step before bringing suit against a government body.

The family's notice does not cite a dollar figure but claims "personal and psychological injuries, financial losses, property damage and other damages."

Lynn Whitehead and Bradley McCord spent several days during the manhunt living at a relative's home in Essex.

When they returned to their home in Dundalk, a family member asked police at the Essex precinct for protection from Palczynski, according to the notice.

Police in Essex promised to relay the request to the North Point precinct, which covers Dundalk, but the only contact the family had was with an officer who made a brief visit several hours before Palczynski arrived, according to the notice.

"Had the promised police protection been provided, the [family members] would not have been subjected to this horrific experience," the claim states.

Sandler said that for a citizen to claim damages from a lack of police protection, the law requires evidence of a "special relationship" between the police and the citizen.

"If the police said to Mr. McCord and his family, `Don't worry, we'll protect you, you're covered,' then they would have a valid claim," Sandler said.

Lynn Whitehead complained yesterday that the county has not reimbursed her family for a couch, a phone and a table that were damaged when Palczynski was killed.

Elise Armacost, a Baltimore County government spokeswoman, said the family rejected offers of $3,500 for items damaged by police and $2,000 in proposed grants to cover damage caused by Palczynski.

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