A 24-year-old man, accused of robbing an Arlington bank of $70,000 eluded more than 20 police officers who surrounded his home at 3618 11th St. NW early yesterday in an effort to arrest him.

For more than three hours, police made pleas over a bullhorn for 25-year-old Wesley John Palmer to come out with his hands over his head. Finally, six canisters of tear gas were fired into the house and about a dozen officers rushed inside, guns drawn.

Minutes later, they came out again, ripping off flak jackets in disgust and pulling off helmets and gas masks.

The man they were trying to arrest, had gotten away.

Stacks of bills, believed by police to be the money stolen in the robbery, was found in the basement of the house, police said.

Five D.C. and Arlington police detectives had gone to Palmer's house about 6 a.m. yesterday to serve warrants in connection with the robbery Thursday of the Virginia National Bank in Crystal City.

They were met by Palmer's mother who let them in the house and told them her son was in the basement.

"He wouldn't answer," said Capt. Maurice McDonald of the 4th District. "They (police) threatened to send a canine dog. I've got a girl down here.' He sent the girl up and woudln't talk anymore."

"After we'd been there 15 or 20 minutes trying to get him out of the family got disorderly and tried to get us out," McDonald said. "They were cussing, swearing and saying we were inhuman."

The mother, according to police, began swinging at the officers. They were trying to arrest her for disorderly conduct, when the sister allegedly struck Officer Stuart Smith with a shower device.

Smith was taken by ambulance to the Washington Hospital Center, where he was admitted for observation.

Meanwhile, a crowd gathered near the house. People cordoned off the block. Neighbors stood on porches and looked out windows at Special Operations Division officers arriving in their flak jackets with gas masks strapped to their belts.

For two hours, detectives and division teams took turns trying to talk Palmer into giving up.

Some 21 police cars and vans lined the streets and alleys. The air was filled with the hubbub of barking police dogs, complaining division team members who wanted to storm the house and residents who stood on their porches in bathrobes and casual clothes watching the scene.

"I think they have the whole Metropolitan Police Force up here," a woman told her companion as he began counting the cars.

"21, 22 . . . I'm going to stop counting!" he exclaimed.

Meanwhile, one Special Operations Division member standing with his friends began to complain about how the 4th District was handling the matter. "Those guys are trained to boot cars, not to take buildings," he grumbled.

As police officers stood around in little groups chatting during the standoff, the streets became alive with women carrying children, people going to work and curious onlookers.

At 9 a.m., an officer announced over the bullhorn, that the citizens were to get inside their houses. If Palmer didn't come out in 60 seconds, they would begin firing tear gas "and he might come out shooting."

Immediately the streets cleared. People rushed behind their doors or pulled their heads back inside the windows. Officers began calling for gas masks.

A few minutes later, the loud, dull bang of three tear gas canisters going off in succession filled the air. Later a fourth canister was fired. Then a fifth and sixth.

As the silence continued, officers on the street chuckled. Some talked about notorious D.C. escape artists who had eluded the police. "They had all of Southeast cut off [in one case] like it was the end of the world," one officer remembered. "I don't know how he got out of there."

As Special Operations Division officers left the house, it soon became apparent that there was another mystery. Palmer had gotten away.

Deputy Police Chief Robert W. Klotz, head of the Special Operations Division, said police believe Palmer somehow escaped through an air shaft that led from the basement to the roof. A footprint was discovered in the shaft and some skid marks were found on the roof of an apartment building three doors from the house. Police theorized that Palmer had jumped from the row houses to the roof of the apartment building and escaped.

Police then began conducting searches of nearby homes whose residents allowed them to come in. A Park Police helicopter was brought into the search.

But later yesterday, Palmer still had not been caught.