Standoff shooting ruled justified

Review finds officers acted rightly in firing on Palczynski

July 12, 2000|By Dennis O'Brien and Dan Thanh Dang | Dennis O'Brien and Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore County State's Attorney's Office said yesterday that two police officers were "completely justified" when they fatally shot Joseph C. Palczynski on March 21, ending a hostage standoff and two-week rampage that left four people dead.

Deputy State's Attorney Sue A. Schenning said that after reviewing a 3-inch thick report by county homicide detectives, she has no doubt that Officers Frank D. Barile and Robert O. Jones responded appropriately when they shot Palczynski.

"It was a clear-cut decision by this office that the shooting was justified," she said.

The decision angered Palczynski's mother, who said yesterday that her son was sound asleep on a couch and posed no danger to anyone when he was shot.

"The kid was sleeping," said Patricia Long. "He was out like a light, and he didn't have a chance."

But Andrew McCord, who was held hostage for four days by Palczynski, along with his girlfriend and their son, said the officers helped save his son's life. The boy, Bradley McCord, was in the Dundalk apartment when police stormed it.

"I feel like those officers did the right thing," Andrew McCord said.

Security experts said yesterday the fact that Palczynski was armed, that he had threatened to kill police and that a child was still in the house supported the officers' actions.

"As a police officer you have a responsibility for the lives of anyone else in that house, and the question becomes: Is someone's life at risk?" said Richard W. Kobetz, a former Chicago police officer who teaches hostage response techniques at the Executive Protection Institute in Virginia.

Palczynski's rampage began March 7 when he kidnapped his ex-girlfriend, Tracy Whitehead, from a Bowleys Quarters apartment and shot and killed three people who tried to help her. The next night, he killed a passing motorist during an attempted carjacking.

After a 10-day manhunt that led police to Virginia and then back to Bowleys Quarters, Palczynski stormed the Dundalk apartment where Whitehead's mother, Lynn Whitehead, lived with Bradley and Andrew McCord.

On the night of March 21, Lynne Whitehead slipped an anti-anxiety drug with sedative properties into Palczynski's iced tea and slipped out a first-floor bedroom window while Palczynski slept in the living room of the Lange Street apartment. She was followed a few minutes later by Andrew McCord.

A team of police officers, including Barile, 36, and Jones, 37, rushed the apartment, shooting Palczynski and rescuing 12- year-old Bradley McCord, who was asleep nearby in the kitchen.

The officers fired their MP 5's - 9 mm submachine guns capable of firing 800 rounds per minute - and hit Palczynski 27 times as he began to rise from a sofa. Police said he had a .357 Magnum revolver on his stomach and other guns nearby.

Both officers were placed on routine paid administrative leave after the shooting and returned to active duty soon after.

County police spokesman Bill Toohey said the officers would not comment on the case because an internal affairs investigation has not been completed.

Yesterday's decision was praised by the county Fraternal Order of Police. "The process takes a long time to complete, but it's nice to see that after the thorough investigation that it worked out in this fashion," said Cole Weston, president of FOP Lodge 4. "It is clear those tactical officers were called upon to perform diligently on what they were trained to do. This ruling proves they acted appropriately and professionally.

"We can move on now," he said.

Andrew McCord and Lynne Whitehead have filed a notice that they intend to sue county police for not protecting them during the weeks Palczynski was on the run.

The "notice of claim" - a preliminary step before a suit is initiated against the county - was filed last month.

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