SLED probe into York Police, chief involves 'use of force'

jmcfadden@heraldonline.com, adouglas@heraldonline.comApril 24, 2014 

— A State Law Enforcement Division investigation of the York Police Department centers around the “use of force” by police, including Chief Andy Robinson, city officials said in a statement released Thursday.

City Manager Charlie Helms said he hoped Thursday’s statement would clear up “recent rumors and misinformation” that have surfaced about the investigation. The probe became public Monday when The Herald reported about it on heraldonline.com.

Until Thursday, city administrators, including Helms and Robinson, refused to discuss the investigation. But the statement did not give details about the “use of force” incident, including where and when it happened and whether anyone was injured.

After Helms released the statement, York Mayor Eddie Lee called for more “transparancy” about the case. There is a video of the incident, Lee said, and he hopes local law enforcement officials or SLED will release it to the public.

Helms, in his statement, said SLED was asked to investigate after he and others were “notified of an arrest incident (that) involved use of force by York Police Department personnel.”

Typically, the department would conduct an internal review if questions arise about officers’ use of force, Helms said. But, police department policies and procedures do not specify “review protocols” involving the police chief.

City leaders contacted SLED –– an “independent and impartial entity” – to investigate, Helms said.

“Had this incident involved any York police officer other than the police chief, the matter would have been reviewed according to York Police Department policy.”

Helms said the city would not make any further statement until the investigation is finished.

Robinson did not return phone calls from The Herald on Thursday. Robinson has led the York Police Department since 2011.

SLED would not release further information on Thursday about the probe because it’s “open and ongoing,” said spokesman Thom Berry, adding that no timeframe has been set for finishing the investigation.

York community needs ‘transparency’

Lee said he does not agree with Helms’ statement that rumors and misinformation had been circulating about the investigation.

“I think it’s genuine concern by the public,” Lee said. “There needs to be complete transparency about this matter....The citizens of York are the taxpayers and the residents. They deserve that transparency...complete transparency.”

Councilman Ed Brown echoed Lee’s comments, saying the investigation “involves city employees...as members of the council, we should have the right to see (the video).”

Brown said he learned of the investigation from Helms this week. He added city officials said they “didn’t think there would be much to it.”

The City Council needs more information about the incident, Brown said, to know “was it something handled out of hand (or) was it excessive use of force.”

York City Councilman Bill Miller said he had not seen a video of the incident. He declined to comment, saying the investigation is in SLED’s hands, and “let’s just leave it like that.”

Councilman Michael Fuesser said he could not comment until the investigation is over.

Councilman John Shiflet said he does not advocate for the release of an incident video while an investigation is ongoing –– even to himself or his fellow council members.

“I don’t think it’s our responsibility at this point,” Shiflet said. “If the investigation turned up problems and the council needed to weigh in, it would be our responsibility to look at it.”

Shiflet said he has not seen a video and does not know when the use of force incident involving Robinson occurred.

“I have not had any clarification on that,” he said. “I really haven’t asked, quite frankly. The fact that there was a question (of police behavior) was more of my concern than when the incident actually happened.”

Jonathan McFadden 803-329-4082

Anna Douglas 803-329-4068

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FULL TEXT OF STATEMENT FROM CITY MANAGER CHARLES HELMS:

"City Administration was notified of an arrest incident that involved use of force by York Police Department personnel. Generally, the police department would review and investigate the incident per Department Policy and Procedures. Due to the fact that this particular incident involved the police chief, and the fact that the police department’s Policy and Procedures do not provide for use of force review protocols involving the police chief, City Administration made the decision to contact an independent and impartial entity (the State Law Enforcement Division) to review this incident.

City Administration further decided to allow SLED to conduct its investigation completely without interference or influence by the City in any way; therefore, the City determined that the best way to achieve this was to refrain from commenting on the matter until the investigation is completed. Had this incident involved any York police officer other than the police chief, the matter would have been reviewed according to York Police Department Policy.

Due to the recent rumors and misinformation that have surfaced concerning this matter, the City of York has decided that it is in the best interest of the City to provide this summary of the event in an effort to prevent further speculation and distortion of the facts. No further statement will be made until this matter is concluded."

Jonathan McFadden 803-329-4082, Anna Douglas 803-329-4068

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