Palczynski had phone, not gun, police say

Baltimore County issues final report on Dundalk hostage case

3 weapons within reach

March 07, 2001|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

Joseph C. Palczynski was holding a cordless telephone - not a gun - the night he was killed by two Baltimore County police officers in the apartment where he held three hostages, according to the Police Department's final report on the incident.

When the officers stormed the building in Dundalk, Palczynski had three weapons within arm's reach. But the report refutes statements by police that he had a .357 Magnum revolver under a blanket on his stomach when he was killed.

The 337-page report offers a detailed look at the hostages' interactions with their captor and police commanders' plans to "neutralize," or kill, Palczynski - as long as officers had a clear shot - from the first moments of the standoff.

The Baltimore County state's attorney's office used the report - released this week in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by The Sun - to clear the two tactical officers who shot and killed Palczynski last March 21.

That night, police said that Palczynski was holding a gun on his lap, and the statement has been widely reported in the media since. But police knew within hours of his death that it was a cordless phone, not a gun, that was found on his body, according to the report.

When asked yesterday about the discrepancy, police spokesman Bill Toohey said, "I did not find out it was a [cordless] phone until three or four days ago."

Toohey said the information was not released sooner because of a lapse in communication among investigators, but he questioned its relevance.

"The phone made no material difference, given the weapons he had" within reach, Toohey said.

The report says police found a .22-caliber revolver under the sofa where Palczynski was sleeping, a .357 Magnum on a table next to the sofa, and a .22-caliber rifle on the floor near his feet.

County State's Attorney Sandra A. O'Connor said yesterday that she didn't know about the phone; the police report was reviewed by one of her deputies. But she said it wouldn't have made a difference in her decision to clear the officers of wrongdoing, given the danger Palczynski posed.

"It's the perception of an officer in a split second, coming in through a window or coming in through a door," O'Connor said. "If there was something in his hand that could've looked like a weapon, then absolutely, they were justified."

Palczynski's mother, Patricia Long, said the report strengthened her belief that her son was wrongfully killed.

"Those police stick together like chewing gum, all the police stick together like glue," Long said. "They had no right to do what they did, there was another way to get him out. Tear gas."

Palczynski began a two-week rampage a year ago today when he kidnapped his ex-girlfriend, Tracy Whitehead, from a Bowley's Quarters apartment and killed three people. Whitehead got away from Palczynski the next night after he had killed a motorist and critically injured a 2-year-old boy in separate shootings.

Palczynski, a 31-year-old unemployed electrician, eluded police for 10 days, sparking the biggest manhunt in Baltimore County history, until he took Whitehead's mother, Lynn Whitehead, her boyfriend, Andy McCord, and their son, Bradley, hostage in their Dundalk apartment.

On the night of March 21, Lynn Whitehead and Andy McCord escaped while Palczynski slept, creating an opportunity for police to move in, shoot Palczynski and free the couple's son.

The 3-inch-thick report includes interviews with a dozen officers involved in the rescue of Bradley McCord.

It also contains detectives' interviews with all three hostages and the two tactical officers who shot Palczynski with 9 mm submachine guns, capable of firing 800 rounds per minute.

"The team deployed and as the window was broke I heard the suspect scream," Officer Robert O. Jones wrote in a prepared statement to investigators. "As I entered the window, I observed the suspect sitting up fast and sliding away from the window to the other side of the sofa [toward the hostage]. ... I immediately fired 11 rounds."

Jones and Officer Frank D. Barile Jr. were cleared of criminal wrongdoing July 11. An internal investigation by the department also found the officers acted appropriately.

The tactical assault came about 20 minutes after Lynn Whitehead and Andy McCord escaped from their home; Whitehead had spiked Palczynski's iced tea with Xanax, an anti-anxiety drug. They left 12-year-old Bradley sleeping on the floor, about eight feet from Palczynski, who was asleep on a couch.

Whitehead and McCord told police about intimate conversations they had with Palczynski during their ordeal.

"On Tuesday morning, Joby was really depressed and he asked me to come in the room with him," Whitehead wrote. "He said, `Miss Lynn, I know I'm not going to see Tracy anymore. What should I do?'

"I told him that whatever happened I would tell Tracy that he loved her. He asked me if I would kill him because he didn't want to do it because he would go to hell. I told him `no.'"

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