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Mayor: Officer now on desk duty, accused of reenacting George Floyd's death

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

A York City police officer is on desk duty after being accused by three people of mocking and reenacting the death of George Floyd while off duty at a party, according to city Mayor Michael Helfrich.

The mayor noted that Officer Clayton Swartz "could be gone already" if there was video that showed him performing such a reenactment.

On Wednesday night, Helfrich posted this on Facebook:

"The police officer has been removed from public duty and has been assigned to desk duty until we can complete the collection of evidence and testimony, a process required by law."

The mayor's post was made after The York Dispatch first reported on the allegations of three women, who said Swartz, who is white, put his knee on the neck of a white man lying on a couch and started asking the man, "Can you breathe? Are you dead yet?" while the man on the couch convulsed and pretended he was dying.

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.

Two of the woman are black and said they were the only people of color at the party, held in a home in Spring Garden Township. All three women said they believe Swartz pantomimed Floyd's death for their benefit. Read the full account of their allegations here:

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

"Right now we have allegations," Helfrich wrote. "This is why I am telling people to video everything. If we had video of what he is accused of, he could be gone already. Instead we have to follow a lengthy investigation process. A city is not like a business. I can't just fire someone based on an allegation without an investigation. This is the best I can do for now."

Man disputes allegations: 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."

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

Internal investigation: York City Police Commissioner Osborne Robinson told The York Dispatch there is an ongoing internal investigation into Swartz and the allegations against him, being handled by Inspector Michael Davis of the department's Internal Affairs Division.

"If that allegation is true, it is extremely disturbing and unacceptable," Robinson has said. "I take these allegations seriously."

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

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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.

Swartz was hired in June 2017 and is the son of Spring Garden Township Police Chief George Swartz.

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

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