York City's top cop recommends firing officer accused of reenacting George Floyd death
An internal report signed by York City's police commissioner indicates he is in favor of recommending that the York City Council fire an officer accused of reenacting the police-custody death of George Floyd.
The undated document, titled "Review of Confidential Report" and initialed in two places by Commissioner Osborne Robinson III, accuses Officer Clayton Swartz of failing to truthfully answer questions during the internal-affairs investigation into his alleged actions at a May 30 graduation party.
It also states Swartz, 26, is guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer for allegedly adversely affecting "the morals or efficiency" of the city police department, and goes on to say that the alleged reenactment "has a tendency to destroy public respect for police officers."
For both offenses, Robinson recommended "Level 6" discipline against Swartz per the city police's union contract, which means dismissal by City Council, according to the document.
That document and others, as well as transcripts of witness interviews and a transcript of Swartz's Aug. 19 internal trial-board hearing, are attached to York City's petition for review, filed in York County civil court on Wednesday.
The petition is 1,286 pages, including attached exhibits.
The appeal: York City is appealing the three-person police trial board's decision to clear Swartz of the internal charges against him. The trial board's finding was made public Sept. 10.
Three people — India Maldonado, Lexxus Brown and Marley Dahlheimer — gave oral and written complaints to Inspector Michael Davis of the department's Internal Affairs Division saying they witnessed Swartz and his fiancee's uncle, Christopher Owens, reenact and mock the May 25 death of George Floyd, in which a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on the man's neck until Floyd was dead.
Owens, who is biracial, told The York Dispatch it didn't happen.
The women said it happened the night of May 30 at a graduation party for the sister of Swartz's fiancee, which was held in the York City home of Swartz's future parents-in-law.
The trial-board transcript reveals contentious bickering between Swartz's attorney, Ed Paskey, and the city's attorney, Joe Rudolf. Repeated objections marked the nearly nine-hour hearing.
The city's petition maintains Swartz is lying in his denials.
Swartz's supporters maintain he's innocent of the allegations, and that the women's accusations aren't credible and that their stories are inconsistent.
Swartz's account: During his June 1 internal-affairs questioning, Swartz denied putting his leg against the neck of Owens, 48, as the man lay on a couch. He denied asking Owens whether he could breathe or if he was dead yet.
"I leaned up against, like, him and the couch, and I was shaking him in the chest" to wake him up, Swartz said, according to the interview transcript. "And at that point he woke up and jokingly said 'I can't breathe.' ... From what I can recall, I leaned up against him and the couch and shook him awake. I don't know where my knee exactly was. I mean I'm just leaning on him and the couch."
Both he and Owens denied allegations that Owens convulsed and pretended to be dying. Owens has said Swartz chuckled to placate him, but said Swartz didn't participate in any reenactment.
In a July 16 filing to Commissioner Robinson, Swartz wrote:
"As my statement on June 1, 2020 indicates, I am fully aware that an insensitive comment was made regarding George Floyd’s death by Christopher Owens, who has since taken complete ownership of his offensive remark. I realize that my proximity to Christopher Owens when the unanticipated comment was made and throughout the duration of this party reflects negatively on my character as a York City Police Officer. I will always accept responsibility for my own actions; however, I cannot accept responsibility for something that I did not plan, orchestrate, do, say or intend."
July 16 is also the date that Swartz's paid administrative leave was changed to unpaid, court records state.
He has not been disciplined in the past by city police, court documents reveal.
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.
An online petition started by Maldonado to have Clayton Swartz fired now has more than 20,100 signatures.
— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.