EDITORIAL: Release the video of cop and judge

York Dispatch Editorial Board
Matthew Menges is sworn in as Court of Common Pleas judge during a ceremony at the York County Administrative Center Friday, Jan. 3, 2020. Oaths of office were administered to county and court officials. Bill Kalina photo

Releasing a video seems a simple act. And for local officials who swear Judge Matt Menges didn’t receive special treatment, it’s the only logical step to assuage a skeptical public.

The initial allegation was disturbing enough.

A York City Police officer clearing a route for an ambulance accused York County’s newest judge — 41-year-old Menges was sworn in not three weeks earlier — of disobeying his orders.

"He proceeded to travel after instructed not to, almost ran me over," Officer Alexander Nova wrote in Menges’ Jan. 23 summary citation for disobeying an authorized person directing traffic. 

If true, that is alarming. It reasonably calls into question the temperament of a man who will be passing judgment on others for the next 10 years.

But the community’s ears really perked up when that citation was withdrawn later that same day at the direction of the York County District Attorney’s Office.

More:York County Judge Matt Menges pleads guilty in traffic dust-up

More:Want to see what happened between a York County judge and city cop? You can't

More:Citation against Judge Matthew Menges withdrawn as York County DA probes other charges

Here we go, some readers suggested, another example of the ruling, governing — judging — elite protecting one of its own.

We took those calls. We saw those comments. And we referred them back to our article.

The DA's office told us they requested the citation be withdrawn so an "independent and thorough" review of the incident could be done by York County detectives.

We took District Attorney Dave Sunday’s office at its word. For all we knew, the detectives could have been exploring more serious charges.

In fact, last week Menges pleaded guilty three summary citations — of disobeying an authorized person directing traffic, careless driving and duties of drivers in emergency response areas — following the DA’s review.

He paid his fines and court costs of $639.25 at Judge Linda Williams’ office on Feb. 18.

All good? No, not quite.

There’s still that issue of nearly running down the cop, which the DA’s office seems to say didn’t happen.

The District Attorney’s investigators specifically noted that "Judge Menges did not willfully or wantonly disregard the safety of Officer Nova or recklessly engage in driving conduct that may have placed Officer Nova in danger of death (or) serious bodily injury."

How did they reach that conclusion? Party from the body camera video recorded by the the officer who filed the initial complaint.

There’s a lot going on here, involving the York County Common Pleas Court, the York County District Attorney’s Office and the York City Police Department.

None of it looks good.

And none of us should have to wring our hands and wonder who to believe.

York City’s refusal to release the footage can only serve to fuel the public’s perception that there are rules for the well-connected and rules for everyone else. It flies in the face of the promised accountability officials made throughout he country years ago when they asked the public to cough up the cash for body camera technology.

The video could clear this all up. We can watch and decide for ourselves if a judge was a jerk, a cop overreacted or, perhaps more likely, the truth is somewhere in between.

But neither the DA’s Office nor York City will release that recording.

Keep in mind these are all public officials or public employees we’re talking about. And police departments receive hundreds of thousands of dollars to record and store body camera video.

Body cameras were supposed to increase transparency and restore trust in law enforcement.

Hiding the footage in a case like this has the exact opposite effect.

York City's assistant solicitor said the city is reviewing its longtime policy of withholding any document or video exempted under the state's Right to Know Law.

"The mayor wants more transparency," said Jason Sabol, who cited the investigatory exemption of Pennsylvania's Act 22 of 2017 in his decision not to release the body-cam footage.

It should be noted that there is nothing in Act 22 that prohibits the release of this video.

If York City Mayor Michael Helfrich truly wants transparency, this is a no-brainer: Start here.