OP-ED: FOP says York City doesn't have right to appeal decision exonerating officer

Brian K Lehman
FOP Lodge 15
York City Police Chief Troy Bankert, left, and Officer Clayton Swartz as officials investigate a fatal shooting reported near the corner of South West and West Princess Streets in York City, Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018. York City Mayor Michael Helfrich said the shooting resulted in the death of an adult male and an injured juvenile who was transported to York Hospital. Dawn J. Sagert photo

On Sept. 10  the Board of Appeals found Officer Clayton Swartz not guilty of the three internal accusations against him. The Board of Appeal’s process was agreed upon by the City of York and the York City Police Department’s FOP at the beginning of this year.

In this contractual agreement it is stated that “The Decision of the Board shall be final and binding on both parties”; therefore, the City of York and Commissioner Osborne “Moe” Robinson III’s petition to appeal the board’s decision would break this contract.

The City of York’s petition stated that the appeal is a result of “the failure of a York City Police

Department Trial Board to justify its conclusions of ‘Not Guilty’ on charges of misconduct by issuing a decision without specific findings of fact and without any explanation for how their decision was reached.”

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The City of York’s claim that the board’s decision was unjust rests upon the questionable judgment of Mayor Michael Helfrich, who is trying to explain his shortcomings after making statements against Officer Swartz publicly and on social media. These public statements came prior to any investigation, but the trial board revealed that the allegations against Officer Swartz were false.

We would now like to take this time to publicly justify the trial board’s conclusions in order to reveal what the City of York’s petition fails to acknowledge.

First, we hope to relieve any feelings that the York City Police Department or the trial board has made any effort to conceal information by revealing who was a part of the board. The Board of Appeals consists of:

1. The police commissioner. Commissioner Osborne Robinson was not a part of the board but instead opted to appoint someone to represent him.

2. The president of the FOP, who also opted to appoint someone to represent him.

3. A disinterested party that both the York City Police Department and Commissioner Osborne Robinson agreed upon.

Furthermore, the City of York failed to bring any witnesses to the trial board, including the three girls who initially made the claims against Officer Swartz. The City of York’s claims of sufficient evidence for a guilty decision are false because there was no evidence at the trial board. In fact, the only evidence presented were witnesses that coincided with Officer Swartz’s story; a story that was much different than the three accusers who did not bother to show up.

As you can see, the City of York’s claims that this petition stems from the lack of “… findings and without any explanation” makes no sense. There were findings but they did not fit the picture that the City of York is trying to paint.

It is the FOP’s position that the framework for the petition holds no weight, we also cannot accept this appeal because the trial board is a contractual right; therefore, it cannot be appealed to the Court of Common Pleas.

In its entirety, this appeal is improper. As stated by Liz Evans Scolforo from The York Dispatch, Joe Rudolf is the City of York’s attorney who filed this petition. Surely Mr. Rudolf would be aware of this. Mr. Rudolf brought forth the following claim, “…the record in this case clearly contains sufficient evidence to more than support a conclusion that Officer Swartz engaged in the misconduct for which he is charged.”

As previously stated, he failed to acknowledge that there were no witnesses present during the trial board to support the claims against Officer Swartz. The only sufficient evidence presented were eyewitnesses who contested the claims made by the three accusers.

The FOP has to ask the City of York and Commissioner Osborne Robinson why they are rejecting the findings of the trial board. They and their attorney are well aware of the contract they agreed to that clearly stated the findings of the trial board are “final and binding.” This is the same trial board that was agreed upon by all parties just this year and the same trial board that contained two-thirds of the people appointed by the commissioner.

In summary, The City of York and Commissioner Osborne Robinson’s claims that the trial board is not justified or qualified in their decision comes after the trial board failed to buy into a falsely reported sequence of events.

Mayor Helfrich and the commissioner need to admit that their initial judgment was wrong. The FOP stands by the decision of the board. Officer Swartz has proven himself “not guilty” of all allegations against him through the contractually obligated checks and balances system that was established by the City of York; therefore, the FOP demands that Officer Clayton Swartz be reinstated to his position and pay.

Furthermore, they demand that the City of York and Commissioner Osborne Robinson stop the defamation of character against Officer Swartz.

— Brian K Lehman is vice president of FOP Lodge 15.