York City's police union rescinds sheriff endorsement, votes to support challenger

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch
York County Sheriff Rich Keuerleber campaigned outside his polling location on primary election day at Dover Township Community Center in Dover Township on May 21, 2019.
(Dawn J. Sagert photo)

The union that represents York City Police officers has rescinded its endorsement of York County Sheriff Richard Keuerleber, citing concerns related to Keuerleber allowing a felon who has donated to the sheriff's office to bypass the county judicial center's security screening process in July.

York City Detective Jeremy Mayer, president of the city police officers' White Rose Lodge of Fraternal Order of Police, confirmed to The York Dispatch that the vote happened during an FOP meeting the night of Monday, Sept. 16.

The White Rose lodge comprises both active-duty officers and retirees. Some current York County sheriff's deputies are retired or former York City police officers.

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"Members voiced their concerns about the current sheriff's administration," Mayer said. "There (were) a bunch of other things that I'm not going to (discuss) that members specifically wanted to address."

However, the sole issue of Keuerleber allowing a felon and sheriff's office contributor to bypass security was enough of a concern for the members at Monday's meeting to unanimously vote to rescind its endorsement.

Also of concern was the feeling among some members that Keuerleber has misled people about details of the incident involving Bill Hynes, according to Mayer. Keuerleber told The York Dispatch on July 23 that Hynes parked in the secure lot the day of his hearing to visit Dargo, a sheriff's office K-9 officer, as well as to attend the PFA hearing, but subsequently reportedly claimed he never said that.

"The majority of the focus was on the integrity and the trust of the sheriff," Mayer said. "He compromised that ... for the entire county."

Endorsing Becker: Mayer said that in a separate vote, the White Rose FOP members who attended the meeting voted to endorse sheriff's office challenger Shane Becker, who lost his primary challenge to Keuerleber earlier this year but secured enough write-in votes on the Democratic ticket to put him on the Democratic ballot against his former boss in the Nov. 5 municipal election.

Unlike the lodge's vote to pull Keuerleber's endorsement, the vote to endorse Becker wasn't unanimous, Mayer said, "but it was a significant majority."

Former York County sheriff's deputy Shane Becker is running on the Democratic ticket against three-term incumbent York County Sheriff Richard Keuerleber in the November 2019 general election. Becker mounted a primary-election challenge against Keuerleber, who won the primary with 52 percent of the vote.

Becker attended Monday night's meeting to speak to union members and answer their questions, according to Mayer, who said that's not an uncommon practice.

The White Rose FOP doesn't advertise or campaign for candidates, Mayer said; rather, candidates themselves share that endorsement as they see fit.

Some members weren't entirely comfortable about "flip-flopping" on the county sheriff's race endorsement, according to their president.

"That was a significant concern of our membership and myself, but we do believe that candidate Becker presented himself in a manner worthy of our endorsement," Mayer said. "The membership heard him out and chose to endorse him instead."

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Mayer described Monday night's White Rose FOP meeting as a normal-sized meeting and said all members were notified beforehand that the topic of the sheriff's endorsement would be broached.

Keuerleber will be notified in a letter that will be emailed to him, Mayer said.

Neither Keuerleber nor Becker could immediately be reached for comment on Tuesday, Sept. 17.

The background: United Fiber & Data CEO Bill Hynes — who has donated to the sheriff's office K-9 program, specifically K-9 Dargo — had to be in court July 15 for a protection from abuse order in which he was the named defendant. The PFA petition stated he possesses guns, despite being a convicted felon.

Keuerleber previously confirmed to The York Dispatch that he allowed Hynes to park in the secure underground garage used by York County's judges, row officers and other authorized personnel. He said he'd allowed Hynes to park there on prior occasions as well, to visit with Dargo.

The sheriff said part of the reason Hynes was allowed to park there July 15 was because he was going to visit Dargo and that Hynes didn't receive special treatment.

Keuerleber said he had Hynes park in a different area of the lot than where judges park, but row officers and county employees who regularly park there daily have told The York Dispatch the lot is one large area.

The York County Board of Commissioners issued a statement July 23 saying Keuerleber was derelict in his duties for allowing Hynes to park in the secure garage.

York County President Common Pleas Judge Joseph Adams did not weigh in publicly, but Common Pleas Judge Craig T. Trebilcock did, slamming Keuerleber's conduct and setting security standards for his own courtroom in a five-page interim emergency order he read aloud in court on July 29.

"Security is only as strong as the weakest link in the chain," Trebilcock said. "When exceptions are made based upon personal familiarity, social status or individual wealth, then security no longer exists."

'Serious breach': The statement described it as a "serious breach of security" and noted that formal security protocols weren't followed.

The sheriff initially responded by saying, "I look forward to whatever changes we're going to make in the policy and procedures."

But two days later, Keuerleber pushed back. He told The York Dispatch that he doesn't agree the Hynes incident constitutes a security breach.

"It's within my discretion ... to make exceptions to searches and screenings of persons entering the facility," he said. "I didn't violate any policies or procedures."

New security policy: On Sept. 4, sheriff's office Deputy Lt. Wesley Williams sent an email to York County officials announcing a change in security policy at the York County Judicial Center, according to two county officials who received the email.

Effective Sept. 5, the new policy states that all county workers entering the judicial center will now be subject to random security screenings and reminded all employees to wear their county badges, according to the officials who spoke to The York Dispatch about the contents of the email.

The new policy also bans smoking on the center's rear loading dock and prohibits people using the rear door of the judicial center, with a few exceptions for judges, commissioners and other county employees who have a need to use the door, the officials said.

York County spokesman Mark Walters on Sept. 10 declined to release the email publicly because it concerns security measures.

"The commissioners do support these changes and believe they will create needed security," he said. "They are continuing to review security policies and ... considering other changes to policies regarding security."

GOP backs sheriff: On Tuesday afternoon, York County Republican Committee sent out a statement reaffirming its support for Keuerleber in the November election.

In the statement, committee Chairman Jeff Piccola wrote the "supposed security lapse was in main a failure by the incumbent County Commissioners to establish a definitive security policy."

Piccola told The York Dispatch that he's not entirely blaming the commissioners for the Hynes incident, but "you can't say someone violated a policy when you don't have a policy."

The county code states that the commissioners are in charge of security and can delegate that to the sheriff or to a private firm, according to Piccola, but there was no policy on who could park in the garage.

Piccola criticized the White Rose FOP for taking back its endorsement of Keuerleber.

"I think they made a commitment and are double-dealing," he said.

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