Richmond Phillips, a married D.C. police officer, met in a Prince George’s County park on Monday with Wynetta Wright to talk about her year-old daughter.
Phillips was due in court the next day for a hearing that would begin to determine whether he was the baby girl’s father and, if so, how much he’d have to pay to support her.
The meeting ended horribly, police said. Phillips, 39, allegedly pulled out a gun and killed the 20-year-old Wright with a bullet to the head. He then left her body in the park, drove her car up a hill away from the scene and abandoned the baby in the car, according to law enforcement officials with direct knowledge of the case.
When an officer found the car Thursday, after the scorching midweek heat, the baby was dead. As police awaited autopsy results Friday, they said she might have died from the extreme heat in the car. Her body showed no clear signs of trauma. The car has tinted windows, one official said, so passersby were unlikely to notice the baby inside.
“Just a tragic, tragic incident,” said Prince George’s Deputy Police Chief Gary Cunningham.
D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier called it “a horrific crime.”
Phillips, a vice officer who joined the D.C. police force in 2003, was arrested by Prince George’s police Friday and charged with first-degree murder. A family member said Phillips, who is being held without bond, lived in the county’s Temple Hills area with his wife of 13 years and their 12-year-old daughter.
Wright, an aspiring Prince George’s sheriff’s deputy, also lived in Temple Hills. She filed a court petition in February seeking to have Phillips declared the father of her daughter, Jaylin Wright, who was born June 6, 2010. She also asked the court to order Phillips to make child support payments and provide health insurance for Jaylin.
Wright was found dead Thursday on the ground in Oxon Run Spring Valley Park, about a mile from Phillips’s home, authorities said. They said Jaylin was found elsewhere in the park, dead in a car seat in Wright’s green 2008 Saturn Vue.
Phillips has been charged in Wright’s slaying, but authorities are awaiting the autopsy results on Jaylin before deciding whether to charge him in her death.
Two county police officials familiar with the case, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing, said Wright told a friend that she planned to meet with Phillips on Monday to discuss what would happen Tuesday at a scheduled court hearing in the paternity matter.
Detectives have obtained surveillance video showing Phillips and Wright arriving a few minutes apart Monday in a parking lot of the Hillcrest Heights Community Center, at the edge of Oxon Run Spring Valley Park, the officials said.
After Wright failed to return from the meeting, her mother alerted authorities that she was missing, police said. On Tuesday, Phillips showed up for the paternity hearing in Prince George’s Family Court and agreed to take a DNA test, said Paula Tolson, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Human Resources.
“The court was going to notify [Wright] that she and her baby also had to be tested,” said Tolson, whose agency oversees child support enforcement in the state.
On Tuesday or Wednesday, Prince George’s police questioned Phillips about the missing woman and her baby, the police officials said. They said Phillips told investigators that he had not spoken with Wright in a year. However, Phillips’s telephone records indicate that the two had spoken more recently, according to the officials.
After Wright and the baby were found dead Thursday, Phillips was charged with murder and placed on leave by D.C. police.
“Our deepest sympathies go out to the Wright family,” Lanier said. “As we have seen all too often, domestic violence has its impact on the most innocent victims.”
Wright had been active for two years in the Prince George’s Sheriff Explorers program, in which young people learn about the discipline and skills needed to be a law enforcement officer, said Sharon Taylor, a sheriff’s spokeswoman.
The group meets weekly for physical training, instruction and other activities, said Taylor, who likened the program to the Boy and Girl Scouts. She said Wright had recently been promoted to the rank of private first class.
“She came to the program specifically because she was interested in becoming a sheriff’s deputy,” said Taylor, who met Wright once.
Phillips was not involved in the Explorers program, Taylor said. It is not clear how Phillips met Wright.
Phillips and his wife share their home with Phillips’s 75-year-old mother, Ruth Phillips, who said her son did not seem disturbed about anything this week.
She said the family kept up its routine. After Phillips’s wife left for work each morning, she said, Phillips drove their 12-year-old daughter to school, then came home to rest before leaving in the late afternoon for his night shift with the vice unit.
As for the charges against her son, she said, “I’ll be glad when all this is over and all these questions are over with.”
Phillips was assigned to the vice unit in the D.C. police 1st District station, in the 100 block of M Street SW. The precinct covers a wide swath of the city from the Anacostia River to 17th Street NW, south of New York and Florida avenues.
He worked in plain clothes on short-term investigations, making undercover drug buys and performing other anti-vice tasks, police said.
Staff writers Ruben Castaneda, Hamil R. Harris, Justin Jouvenal and Theola Labbe-DeBose and staff researcher Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.