A District police officer was being questioned yesterday after his wife was fatally wounded by a single shot from a handgun in the basement of the couple's Benning Heights home, police said.

Officer Jeffrey Robinson, 26, was off duty and waiting at his white, split-level home in the 1200 block of 44th Place SE when fellow 6th District officers responded to a 911 call, police said.

Robinson's wife, Portia Robinson, was found in the basement about 2:15 p.m., said Sgt. Joe Gentile, a police spokesman. She had a single gunshot wound to her body, and a handgun was nearby, police said. Authorities said Portia Robinson was from the West Indies.

She was taken to Prince George's Hospital Center, and her husband was taken to the 6th District station and later to police headquarters for questioning, Gentile said.

Robinson, a six-year member of the police force, was not told during questioning that his wife had died. She was pronounced dead at 3:01 p.m., police said.

Investigators were analyzing the handgun to determine whether it was a service weapon, Gentile said.

The couple's toddler was being cared for by a neighbor as police paced the block. Officers and top brass walked the line of yellow crime-scene tape as they conferred. The case was transferred from the 6th District to the major crimes unit.

Neighbors said Robinson and his small family moved into the house a little more than a year ago. "He is a gentleman," Alice Claggett said. "He came to one of our block meetings."

Another neighbor said Robinson was helpful to residents of the tidy, working-class neighborhood. "I remember he said he would help us whenever we needed him, and I know he wears dreadlocks," Rosetta Streeter said.

Those dreadlocks nearly cost Robinson his job in 1997 when he was placed on administrative leave because of his refusal to cut them.

A federal judge granted Robinson an injunction allowing him to return to work with full pay and barring the police department from making him cut his hair.