Woman punched in face by York City cop now closer to trial

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch
  • Chief Wes Kahley says Office Detweiler 'did what he had to do' to protect himself during the scuffle.
  • Defense attorney Bill Graff says his client's aggravated assault charge should be dismissed.

A York City woman punched in the face four times by a city officer is now facing trial for allegedly resisting arrest and assaulting him outside a local bar.

At the close of Melissa Dyann Penn's preliminary hearing Tuesday afternoon, District Judge Linda Williams determined enough evidence exists for the 21-year-old to stand trial in York County Court.

A video showing a physical confrontation between a York City police officer and York City resident Melissa Dyann Penn on July 3, 2017, was widely shared on social media.
(Video courtesy of Facebook)

Penn, 21, of South Duke Street, remains free on $5,000 bail, charged with felony aggravated assault on a police office, resisting arrest and defiant trespass.

During the hearing, defense attorney Bill Graff asked Williams to dismiss the aggravated assault charge, noting Officer Galen Detweiler wasn't injured in the 1:40 a.m. July 3 scuffle outside Pandora's Box, 466 E. Market St.

"Look at the size of her," Graff said to the judge. "He beat the hell out of her ... and then charged her with aggravated assault."

But senior deputy prosecutor Kara Bowser argued that testimony indicated Penn kicked Detweiler and wrapped her arms around his neck.

Williams agreed with Bowser, saying there was enough evidence to forward the charge to county court.

A short video of the scuffle has been viewed 95,000 times, according to Facebook.

Closing time: Detweiler testified in law-enforcement parlance that he and Officer Bradley Engle were outside Pandora's Box "in order to ensure the safe execution of bar close" when Penn came onto their radar.

He said she was trying to get back into the bar after being thrown out, being "generally loud and unruly," and that her friends were trying to get her to leave the property.

Bar owner Angela Matias caught Detweiler's attention and asked him to remove Penn from the property, Detweiler said.

The officer testified one of the people trying to convince Penn to leave was her own father, who said to her, "Hey, the cops are right there."

Penn replied, "I don't give a f— about the cops," according to Detweiler, who said he told Penn and her father he wasn't trying to make an arrest, he simply wanted Penn to leave.

Carried off by dad: Penn's father said assured the officer he'd handle it.

"He then picked her up and attempted to carry her away from the location," Detweiler testified, but she broke free of her father and headed back to the bar.

Detweiler said at that point, he determined he would arrest her "for the well-being of the people around her" and tried to maneuver her into "a compliant handcuffing position."

"Miss Penn violently pulled away from me, screaming 'F— you,'" he testified. He said he then tried a number of compliance measures to bring her under control, "all of which were failing at the time."

Melissa Dyann Penn

He said that's when he tried an "arm-bar takedown" on Penn, but Penn was able to catch herself and stand back up. Detweiler said he tried the arm-bar takedown a second time, and was successful.

Kicked in sternum: But while they were on the ground, Penn kicked out at him twice, landing one kick to his sternum, Detweiler said.

"I felt Miss Penn wrap her arms around my neck," he said, adding he feared he was losing his tactical advantage.

He struck her four times in the face "in an effort to daze and disorient her," Detweiler testified, adding the struggle lasted less than a minute.

On cross-examination, Graff asked Detweiler whether he's gone through the York City Police Department's tactical training.

Former Baltimore cop: Detweiler said he had, and added that "my training results from the Baltimore City Police Academy." He said he was a Baltimore police officer for five years.

Graff then asked whether Detweiler tried to use pepper spray or any other compliance measures, "rather than just punching the hell out of her when she's on the ground."


The only other witness to testify Tuesday was bar owner Matias, who said she witnessed Penn approach a woman inside Pandora's and say something to her. The other woman said something back.

"(Penn) pushed the girl, and the other girl threw a drink in (Penn's) face," Matias testified, adding she thrice gave Penn notice to leave the bar.

"She threw herself down in my doorway," Matias testified. "This is all in my video."

York City Police probing video of melee involving officer

The bar owner said she has video footage from both inside and outside the bar, and that she turned over all that video to police.

'This ain't Baltimore': After the hearing, Graff made a quip about Detweiler's training:

"This ain't Baltimore," the attorney said.

Graff said he's hopeful Penn's aggravated assault charge will be dropped.

"She resisted arrest — period," he said.

York City Police Chief Wes Kahley said Detweiler remains on active duty, and that the department has reviewed all the video of the incident they have.

'Did what he had to': "We believe, from our review of the matter, that the officer did what he had to do to prevent injury to himself and to take (Penn) into custody," Kahley said. "She assaulted our officer and the officer acted according to the protocols we have in place regarding use of force."

The chief said he and city officials are still discussing whether they can release additional video of the encounter.

"It's not something we're hiding," Kahley said, adding the video has been shown to some community leaders.

"We don't want to try this case in public," he said. "But what people saw on Facebook was a very small portion of a lengthy encounter."

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.