Prince George's County Police Chief John E. McHale Jr. said yesterday officers acted properly in the Tuesday night incident in which police shot and killed William Robinson at the Eastover Shopping Center.

The officers involved in the shooting, Donald Graham and Eugene Patterson, will return to active duty today, he said. They had been placed on administrative leave with pay pending an investigation.

"This was a case where some officers were defending their lives," McHale said.

McHale made his announcement at a press conference in which he contradicted the accounts of a dozen witnesses who had told The Washington Post that Robinson was fleeing police, not shooting at them, when he was shot and killed.

"The Post is trying to generate some animosity between the community and the police department," McHale said.

He told reporters Robinson, 38, fired a shot at plainclothes officer Graham, who was in an unmarked car, just before Robinson was fatally wounded by police. Graham was not injured.

As evidence that Robinson could have killed the officers had they not killed him, McHale read from Robinson's diary, which police took from his one-bedroom apartment in Southeast Washington after the shooting. "I absolutely hate all police people," McHale read from the diary. "I absolutely want all police people killed in the District of Columbia."

McHale also exhibited Robinson's small black handgun. McHale said Robinson fired five shots from the handgun and tried to fire a sixth shot -- at Graham -- but it misfired.

At the press conference outside the police station in Forestville, McHale pointed to a bullet hole in the windshield of the brown Chevrolet Graham drove Tuesday night. He said Graham saw Robinson fire the shot that made the hole seconds before Graham got out of his car and shot Robinson.

In answer to a question, however, McHale said police did not recover the bullet that made the hole and therefore did not know for certain whether it came from Robinson's gun or the gun of the other police officer or the security guard on the scene.

"Is it possible that that hole came from a police revolver?" the police chief was asked.

"Certainly it is possible," said McHale. "I can't deny the possibility."

McHale said police interviewed 40 witnesses after the incident and nearly all of them corroborated the police version of events. But he refused to furnish a list of those persons, saying police do not disclose the names of witnesses in their investigations.

Police did not interview Sandra Gray and Joyce Young, two of the witnesses who told The Post Robinson did not fire a shot at Graham. "For reasons unknown to us, she Young didn't see fit to go to the police department for an interview ," McHale said.

Young said she offered to be interviewed but a police officer at the scene told her to go home.

Police and witnesses interviewed by The Post agreed that Robinson fired the first shots at the police, which punctured the window of the Grand Union. No one was injured. Then, said police and witnesses, Officer Patterson and security guard David Tonkins fired shots at Robinson, but he continued running across the parking lot.

The accounts differ on what happened next. Young and Gray, among others interviewed by The Post, said that police continued shooting at Robinson while he was fleeing; police said their 40 witnesses state that Robinson fired at Graham's unmarked car, prompting Graham to fire at Robinson.

McHale said Graham and Patterson were the only two officers involved in the shooting. Witnesses interviewed by The Post said a large number of officers were present during the incident, but McHale said the additional officers did not arrive until after the shooting was over.

McHale also denied that police interfered with paramedics' efforts to treat Robinson, as Young claimed, and he disputed the contention by a number of witnesses that police shot Robinson numerous times. He said Robinson was shot only four times -- once in each arm and twice in the abdomen.

The medical examiner's report states that Robinson died of gunshot wounds to the abdomen, but medical examiner Margarita Korell could not be reached for comment on the number of times that Robinson had been shot or the exact location of each shot.