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York City cop accused of acting out George Floyd's death at party

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

An off-duty York City police officer at a college graduation party reenacted the police-custody death of George Floyd in front of two black women, according to the women, who have spoken with the city police department's internal affairs inspector.

Officer Clayton Swartz put his knee on the neck of another man at the party — with "big giant smiles across their faces like it's funny," India Maldonado, of Spring Garden Township, told The York Dispatch.

"He starts saying, 'Can you breathe? Are you dead yet?'" Maldonado said of Swartz, while the man on the couch "essentially started convulsing his body like he was dying."

"It was hate in his heart," Marley Dahlheimer, 21, of Spring Garden Township said of the officer. "Everything about what happened screams white privilege."

Swartz could not be reached for comment. The York City Police Department's general orders forbid officers from speaking with the media about police-related issues without permission, with exceptions made for union officers.

White Rose Fraternal Order of Police President Matt Irvin told The York Dispatch that their union lodge "recognizes the seriousness of the allegations and would expect a thorough investigation to be done" to determine exactly what took place.

Man disputes account: On Thursday, Christopher Owens contacted The York Dispatch, which has confirmed that he is the man who was on the couch at the party, and who the women said was pretending to die.

Owens said he is biracial and disputes the women's allegations about Swartz, calling them fabrications. He provided a statement to police but declined to be interviewed for this article.

"On the night of this alleged incident, I was at my niece's graduation party, and made the comment 'I can't breathe.' I take 100% responsibility for that," he wrote.

Owens maintains he was lying on his sister's couch when Swartz came up to him and shook his chest to get him to rejoin the party, and that "nothing else occurred."

"In no way was this a reenactment, and there was no knee placed anywhere," he wrote. "The inconsistencies and fabrications between the social media posts by these females, and their statements in the York Dispatch article need to be exposed."

Owens said he deeply regrets his actions "and the repercussions it is having on Clayton and his family."

The women said they are telling the truth and noted that Swartz is related to the family through marriage.

'Disgusted': College student Lexxus Brown, 21, of York City, said she felt disgusted and humiliated by what she witnessed.

"That's not what York City Police should stand for. ... I can only imagine how he treats our people when he's on duty," Brown said. "I don't see any way he can possibly do his job without racism, discrimination and bias against our people."

In response to Owens' allegations, Brown said, "It is very exhausting to know that people are trying to manipulate the story and question our characters or intentions all because we spoke out about something that was wrong."

York City Mayor Michael Helfrich told The York Dispatch on Wednesday, "The allegations themselves are disgusting, and we are interviewing all witnesses to get the complete story before we take action."

The party, held Saturday at a home in Spring Garden Township, was for one of the trio's longtime friends, Maldonado said.

York City Police Officer Clayton Swartz (at right) poses for a photo with his father, Spring Garden Twp. Police Chief George Swartz, who retired from the York City Police Department before becoming chief in Spring Garden.

'Pure shock': Maldonado and Brown said they felt they were the only two black people at the party but have been going to that home for years and felt comfortable there.

"We all just froze out of pure shock. I instantly was sick to my stomach," Maldonado said. "We didn't know what to do."

Normally, she said, she would not hesitate to challenge someone in that situation, "but this was a cop."

Maldonado, 22, who is a college senior, said she believes Swartz specifically targeted her and Brown, and Brown said she agrees.

The three women went to the dining room and were primarily alone there when Swartz "walked in between our conversation" about midnight, Maldonado said. That's when the officer mocked Floyd's death, she said.

"I couldn't believe this man, who is supposed to protect and serve me and my community, was able to act out something so horrific ... something so controversial and wrong," Maldonado said.

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Kneed man's neck? Dahlheimer said Swartz repeatedly told party guests that he is a police officer. She said he was standing behind a couch when he started verbally mocking Floyd's death, then walked out to the front of the couch and put his knee to the neck of Owens, who was lying there.

"The man underneath him was ... pretending to die," Dahlheimer told The York Dispatch. "They were hysterically laughing. It was a performance to them — it was a joke to them."

Maldonado and Dahlheimer said they told the men it wasn't funny and that Floyd's death wasn't something to joke about.

In response, Swartz and Owens continued to act out Floyd's death, the women said.

"He looked straight at me," Dahlheimer said of the officer. "Eventually he slowly got off of (the other man) and walked past us and murmured something under his breath. ... The man on the couch came up to us and said, 'What are you f—ing b—es talking about?"

Brown confirmed that's what she witnessed as well and said Swartz's performance was loud and lasted for perhaps a minute or two. She said she believes Swartz deliberately mocked Floyd's death to unnerve her and Maldonado.

"It was intimidation for sure," Brown said.

The women said they left the home immediately and called for rides home. While waiting, they said, some of their friends came outside and reported that party guests confronted and yelled at Swartz and Owens.

"In a perfect world, people who act like Clayton Swartz acted wouldn't be allowed to have a badge," Dahlheimer said.

Ongoing investigation: York City Police Commissioner Osborne Robinson confirmed there is an open internal investigation into Swartz, who was hired June 19, 2017. He said he cannot discuss details about it because that could taint the ongoing investigation, being handled by Inspector Michael Davis of the department's Internal Affairs Division, the commissioner said.

Late Wednesday night, the mayor posted on Facebook that Swartz has been assigned to desk duty during the investigation.

"If we had video of what he is accused of, he could be gone already," Helfrich wrote.

"If that allegation is true, it is extremely disturbing and unacceptable," Robinson said. "I take these allegations seriously. I take the reputation of the York City Police Department seriously, and I hold accountable officers to the standards that have been outlined in our policy."

If the allegations are found to be true, he said, they would be considered general misconduct.

Punishment for general misconduct can range from counseling to termination, the commissioner said. He noted that the standard for guilt in an administrative process such as an internal investigation is not the same as in a criminal case.

While someone in criminal court must be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, "in administrative processes, that requirement isn't as steep — it's the preponderance of evidence," Robinson said.

Police apologized: Both Maldonado and Dahlheimer said they were left with a good feeling after speaking with Davis.

York City Mayor Michael Helfrich is joined by York City Police Chief Osborne "Moe" Robinson III, left, during a rally at Continental Square Tuesday, June 2, 2020. Protesters gathered in the city for a second straight day calling for justice after George Floyd died after an altercation with Minneapolis police officers. Over 1,000 people attended the rally. Bill Kalina photo

"He apologized and let me know that's unacceptable, and he was embarrassed on behalf of the entire police department," Maldonado said.

"I think he really understood how traumatizing it was for my friends," Dahlheimer said. "I don't think he took it lightly at all. At least, I really hope he didn't."

A number of people have sent emails to the department and to the commissioner about Swartz's alleged behavior, according to Robinson, who said all those emails will be reviewed and everyone with information about the case will be interviewed.

All three women expressed concern that Swartz's father is the chief of Spring Garden Township Police, where two of the women live.

Chief George Swartz did not return a message seeking comment Wednesday.

"In my experience, (police) are very behind each other, 100%. They will do anything to protect their own," Dahlheimer said. "It's worrying to me that somebody might try to brush it under the rug ... and downplay his actions."

Commissioner Robinson asks that anyone with any information about the alleged incident call Inspector Michael Davis at 717-849-2260 or email him at mdavis@yorkcity.org.

An online petition to have Swartz fired, created by Maldonado, had more than 17,000 signatures as of Thursday evening.

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

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