Judge dismisses suspended police officer's privacy complaint against mayor

Anthony Maenza
York Dispatch

A  judge has dismissed an accusation of invasion of privacy against York City Mayor Michael Helfrich brought by a suspended police officer

The amended complaint by Officer Clayton Swartz in his lawsuit seeking to be reinstated, which claimed Helfrich invaded his privacy by releasing a photo of a notice of administrative leave to a reporter, was dismissed by Judge Matthew Menges on Thursday.

Swartz was suspended amid accusation that he reenacted the murder of George Floyd in 2020 during a graduation party.

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"We dismiss Officer Swartz' invasion of privacy claim with prejudice as well," Menges said in his opinion. "We find no merit in Officer Swartz' claim in light of the materials released to the public. As noted by Officer Swartz in his brief in opposition, the right to privacy is not absolute."

The addition of "with prejudice" means Swartz cannot refile the same claim in court.

The judge went on to say that the only material released from Swartz' personnel file was a letter saying he was being placed on paid leave.

York City Police Chief Troy Bankert, left, and Officer Clayton Swartz as officials investigate a fatal shooting reported near the corner of South West and West Princess Streets in York City, Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018. York City Mayor Michael Helfrich said the shooting resulted in the death of an adult male and an injured juvenile who was transported to York Hospital. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"Officer Swartz alleges this letter was released to one reporter, but does not allege it was release in its entirety beyond that, i.e. to the general public," the opinion stated. "Interestingly, while Officer Swartz claims that the release of this document was an invasion of privacy, he files it as a public exhibit to a public court filing, without redaction or protection as a confidential document. We simply cannot justify further court action in light of these circumstances."

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Swartz accused Helfrich of texting confidential information to the reporter during the early days of the investigation.

Attorneys for Swartz updated the complaint in his civil lawsuit to seek reinstatement to include the invasion of privacy claim. Swartz was seeking $50,000 in damages for the the invasion of privacy claim.

The trial pertaining to Swartz' reinstatement is scheduled to begin on July 11.

The complaint cited a series of Helfrich's text messages, including exchanges with a reporter and with a friend about the internal investigation into Swartz.

— Reach Anthony Maenza at amaenza@yorkdispatch.com or @atmaenza on Twitter. 

Six new York City police officers were sworn in Monday afternoon, April 11, 2022, at York City Hall. Bil Bowden photo

York City Mayor Michael Helfrich