Sunday, August 29, 2004

Officer Mike Waleskowski - Suspended - Waterford PD

On August 29, 2004, Officer Mike Waleskowski was suspended from the Waterford Township Police Department for his theft from the property room the previous day... 

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Officer Michael Waleskowski - Murder / Suicide

Shame turned good cop into killer
Interview, 911 call, suicide note paint chilling picture of Waterford officer's final hours
By John Wisely
The Detroit News, MI
Sep 13, 2004

WATERFORD TOWNSHIP — It was 4:28 a.m. on a late August morning when Officer Michael Waleskowski turned from enforcing the law to breaking it. Overwhelmed with debt, and facing a $939 property tax bill he couldn’t pay, Waleskowski, 39, tapped into the quickest source of cash he could find: he stole money from the police property room. The money belonged to a drunken driving suspect being held at the county jail.

Waleskowski was caught on tape and 26 hours later, the shame of being a good cop gone bad turned him into a killer.

Waleskowski shot his son, Hayden, 9, while the child lay sleeping in a makeshift tent in their family room. Investigators concluded that he carried the boy’s lifeless body to the bed where his mother, Lorna, slept.

Waleskowski next turned his gun on the family Chihuahua and at 6:46 a.m. on Aug. 29, he shot and killed Lorna, his wife of 15 years. He set their home on fire before climbing into the bed and shooting himself, investigators said.

The last hours of the Waleskowski family are chronicled first in police tapes of an interview with a man known to his fellow cops as a fine officer and a loving family man; in 911 calls from their home as Waleskowski went on his rampage; and in a suicide note he left taped to the driver’s side window of his truck.

“My family will forgive me, but I will never forgive myself,” Waleskowski wrote. “I know this is the coward’s way out, but I cannot go back to work after this is all over even if I had a job. I cannot leave this world and leave my family here to listen to the ridicule and whispers.”

Emmanuel Tanay, a forensic psychiatrist at Wayne State University, said the killing of a family by a suicidal member is well-documented in psychiatric research. “We are a unit; I go and the family goes with me,” Tanay said in explaining the mind-set of suicidal family members.

Waleskowski told investigators in a taped interview that he was $500 short of being able to pay his summer property tax bill. The amount he stole: $466.

“I was a few hundred bucks short,” he said on the tape. “I just spent $300 on school clothes for my kid. I spent the whole day thinking about how I could get (the stolen money) back. I thought I could slip it in a different bin so guys thought the property was given to the wrong person,” he told investigators. “It’s like pulling the trigger; once you do it, you can’t take it back.”

But property taxes were only the beginning of Waleskowski’s debt. Records show he owed $61,000 on credit cards and another $9,600 on other loans. Moreover, Oakland County deed records show the couple bought their home in Waterford in 1993 for $109,000 and took out a $99,000 mortgage. They refinanced the house nine times in the next 11 years, pushing their debt on the house to $200,000 in their last mortgage in December 2003.

Michael Waleskowski’s base salary was $55,000 a year. Overtime often pushed that up to above $70,000. He also made an undetermined amount of money working part-time as a security guard. Lorna Waleskowski’s job as a pharmacy technician for Oakland County paid $31,000 and made their combined salaries at least $86,000 a year.

His overtime and his part-time work pushed their income above $100,000 in a township where the median household income was $55,008 when the 2000 census was taken.

The family’s money woes stumped investigators who said there was no evidence that Waleskowski used drugs, gambled or had other vices more commonly linked to such extensive debts.

Colleagues saw a family man who fished and golfed with his 9-year-old son. His bosses saw a police officer who worked hard and well. Waleskowski took pride in his work and described his marriage as perfect: “We had two fights in 16 years,” he said on the tape.

“I can see someone in financial trouble stealing; you can almost understand that,” said Waterford Deputy Police Chief Dale LaCroix, who was Waleskowski’s golf partner. “But the rest, we just don’t know. No one saw it coming.”

A good cop
Michael Waleskowski was good at his job. He’d worked for the Orchard Lake Police Department for 12 years before transferring to Waterford in 1999.

Waleskowski worked midnights and served on the department’s crash reconstruction team.

“He was above average in terms of arrests and tickets,” LaCroix said.

Waleskowski’s life at home appeared equally rewarding. Waleskowski had married Lorna Naylor on June 10, 1989, and five years later, Hayden was born. Co-workers said that Waleskowski loved spending time with his son.

“When his son wasn’t in school, he would bring him with him to court,” said Police Chief John Dean. “His son just idolized him. All he wanted to be was a Waterford police officer.”

Images recorded by security cameras in the property room of the Waterford Police Department on Aug. 28 show an officer enter the property room with the lights off and retrieve a key to a property bin. The figure walks off camera momentarily.

LaCroix said a separate camera in the hallway records Waleskowski walking out of the room with a property bag under his arm at the same time.

“I grabbed the bag and took it,” Waleskowski said later, as two Sheriff’s detectives questioned him about the theft. “I’ve got it at home.”

The property in the bag belonged to a suspected drunken driver arrested six hours earlier by another officer. The driver spent the night in the Oakland County Jail and returned to Waterford about 8:30 a.m. to retrieve his things.

“The guy wanted his property,” Dean said. “The desk sergeant went down to the property room and couldn’t find it. So he told the man it was misplaced and we would contact him when we found it.”

Search continues
Dean said officers continued to search the property room throughout the day on Aug. 28. When the afternoon shift commanders came on duty at 3 p.m., they were told property was missing from an arrest on their shift.

LaCroix said commanders questioned the officer who arrested the drunken driver and he described logging the man’s property and having a fellow officer place it in a bin. The second officer confirmed his version of events, so did videotape from the security cameras.

That same tape eventually showed Waleskowski taking the bag. Commanders began an internal investigation on Waleskowski and asked the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department to send over detectives to review the criminal case.

They called in Sheriff’s deputies to head off any question about the integrity of the investigation. Also called in that night was LaCroix, who consulted with Dean by telephone. LaCroix said later that Waleskowski showed no sign of emotional distress.

Sheriff detectives reviewed the tapes and dispatch logs and prepared to question Waleskowski. It was after midnight when they tried to bring him in, but he was assisting on a K-9 track of a break-in suspect and took more than an hour to clear his call, LaCroix said.

About 2 a.m. investigators sat Waleskowski in an interview room facing a video camera.

Waleskowski first said he visited the property room twice during his shift, both times to log property from people he’d arrested. He denied returning a third time.

“You did return,” one of the detectives told him. “It’s you clear as a bell on tape. You’re not doing too good. It’s on videotape.”

Took bag home
Waleskowski’s hands moved from his chin to under his nose, but his demeanor changed little. He then admitted taking the bag and hiding it in an evidence room until the end of his shift, when he took it home.

The detectives asked Waleskowski to sign a form allowing them to search his house and retrieve the property. He agreed. They said they wanted to call his wife, so she wouldn’t be startled by the officers in the home, but he became reluctant.

Waleskowski said his wife took sleeping pills. “She’ll never wake up,” Waleskowski said.

He eventually accompanied officers to his home. They recovered the property bag from a shed attached to the house. The money was inside the home.

Waleskowski surrendered his service weapon and a personal gun he kept at home. Officers did not know he had another weapon, the one he used for the killings.

After investigators finished talking to Waleskowski at the station, he went home a final time. Some fellow officers went with him and it was after 3 a.m. when they left him there. Waleskowski assured them he would be fine.

At 4 a.m. he sat down at a computer and typed out a suicide note. He addressed it to Dean, LaCroix and his fellow officers. He taped the note on the driver’s window of his truck parked in the driveway.

Investigators concluded that Waleskowski killed his son first. He died from a single gunshot to the head.

Waleskowski apparently carried the boy’s body upstairs and placed him in bed with his sleeping mother.

Someone calls 911
At 6:46 a.m. someone in the home dialed 911 but said nothing. The department’s computer system recorded sounds from the line even before the dispatcher answered the phone, which is possible through 911 recording technology.

The sound of a single gunshot is heard on the tape just before the dispatcher picks up the phone. Investigators believe that shot killed the family’s Chihuahua.

After the dispatcher hung up because there was no response, the computer continued recording what sounds like a groggy woman’s voice saying “Hello.”

Another gunshot can be heard on the tape before it stops recording. Ninety seconds later a neighbor called 911 to report seeing smoke coming from the home. When fire crews arrived, flames were pouring out the windows.

LaCroix said gasoline had been poured throughout the home. The entire family and the dog were found in the bed, Dean said.

Officers have grappled with how to move past the tragedy. Dean said he’s been criticized for the handling of the incident, but he can’t see how anything could have been done differently.

Waleskowski gave no indication what he was planning, Dean said.

“When he stole that property, it was a gross violation of public trust,” Dean said. “We couldn’t look the other way. That badge is bigger than all of us.”

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