Trial board clears York City police officer of wrongdoing
A police trial board has cleared York City Police Officer Clayton Swartz of wrongdoing after hearing nine hours of evidence in the case of three people who accused Swartz of reenacting the police-custody death of George Floyd, according to the police union.
The trial board found Swartz not guilty of the three allegations against him, according to a spokesperson for the White Rose Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents city officers.
Swartz had been accused of conduct unbecoming an officer, excessive use of alcohol off duty and not being truthful, according to active White Rose FOP member Sherri Hansen, who retired after spending a career with York City Police.
But the trial board's ruling, made public on Thursday, is not the final word in the matter.
York City Police Commissioner Osborne "Moe" Robinson III will make the determination about Swartz's future with the department, Hansen confirmed.
There also is an appeals process that York City could choose to take to challenge the trial board's decision, she said.
"The City of York and its attorneys are in receipt of the trial board's decision regarding police Officer Clayton Swartz," said Philip Given, chief of staff for York Mayor Michael Helfrich. "There will be no further comment at this time."
Swartz remains on unpaid administrative leave, according to White Rose FOP President Matt Irvin, who is also a York City police officer.
Swartz's attorney, Ed Paskey, and Given both declined to release a copy of the trial board's findings.
Attorney speaks out: Paskey said the FOP presented 11 witnesses at the trial board, including a Black man who interacted with the accusers at the party and disputes their allegations.
"He felt he needed to come forward so the truth could be told," Paskey said. "The complainants' statements conflicted so wildly that we prepared a 17-page chart just to keep track of all of the inconsistencies."
Att the hearing, the city presented no witnesses who were at the party, he said.
"It's so easy to assassinate a person's character on social media and in online petitions," Paskey said. "But that's not how due process works or is achieved."
He said the FOP will meet with the police commissioner to discuss what happens next for Swartz.
"I hope he is back on the street shortly," Paskey said. "All of the city residents are safer with Clayton back at work."
What's a trial board? Trial boards are disciplinary tribunals and follow procedures outlined in the collective bargaining agreement between the White Rose FOP Lodge and the York City Police Department.
Witnesses testified before the trial board regarding what they heard or saw at a May 30 college graduation party that Swartz attended at a home in Spring Garden Township.
Missing as witnesses, however, were the people who said Swartz and another man pantomimed Floyd's death, Paskey has said.
"The three people who made the complaint were not even called (to testify) by the city," he said, meaning he was unable to cross-examine them. "And that's a shame."
Hansen, who worked with Swartz prior to retiring, described him as a quiet, unassuming person and said when she learned of the allegations, she couldn't imagine Swartz having said and done those things.
"He's an excellent cop," she said.
Departmental general orders forbid Swartz from speaking publicly, according to Irvin, who said it speaks volumes that Swartz's three accusers weren't called to testify.
"They were the only witnesses to have seen this alleged incident, so their testimony would've been ... key to this entire case," he said. The conclusion can be drawn that the incident didn't happen, he said.
'Nothing to hide': "The FOP has nothing to hide," Irvin said, adding that he hopes more information is released about the investigation, which could lead citizens to conclude the investigation was flawed and biased.
"If it was up to us, we'd have everything released," he said. "But that's up to the city. ... Anything that comes out about this investigation would only benefit Clayton Swartz and his reputation."
Irvin said Swartz could have chosen to work for police departments that offer higher pay and less danger but said Swartz wanted to work in York City and still does.
"He takes pride in his job. ... He's truthful, he's a good investigator," Irvin said. "He's respected and liked by his fellow officers and by the community."
He said York City officers don't want bad cops or racists on the force and are committed to making York City a safer place for residents.
What was alleged: Three people previously told The York Dispatch they were at the party and witnessed Swartz and another man reenacting the May 25 killing of Floyd by Minneapolis Police, one of whom knelt on Floyd's neck until he was dead.
The accusers said Swartz put his knee against the neck of a man lying on a couch and said, "Can you breathe? Are you dead yet?" while the man convulsed and pretended he was dying. Two of the women are Black and said they believe Swartz pantomimed Floyd's death for their benefit.
They did not return a message seeking comment Thursday.
The man on the couch, Christopher Owens, has said the allegations aren't true.
He said he is biracial and acknowledged saying "I can't breathe" as he was lying on a couch, but he said Swartz never put a knee on his neck.
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."
Read the full account of the women's allegations here:
The internal investigation into the allegations was handled by Inspector Michael Davis of the department's Internal Affairs Division.
Punishment for general misconduct can range from counseling to termination, the police commissioner has 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, who is a retired York City police officer.
— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.