An activist this week launched a petition calling for the firing of a Pittsburgh police officer who heads Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge 1, more than three months after a grand jury accused the union president of impeding investigations of two police-involved shootings, and days before a trial with the potential to inflame police-community relations.
Jasiri X, the activist, rapper and co-founder of 1HoodMedia, wants the city to fire Officer Robert Swartzwelder, and as of early Friday afternoon a petition on the website of the organization ColorOfChangeindicated that nearly 800 people agreed with him.
The petition was posted Thursday.
“Here we are at a time when we’re talking about police-community relations, and if we can have a guy actively trying to sabotage an officer-involved shooting, actively trying to obstruct justice in this case — he’s the face of why we don’t have good officer-community relations,” the 36-year-old activist from East Liberty said in an interview Friday.
Officer Swartzwelder said Friday that he did not know Jasiri X, and was concerned that there might be a wrong perception that his union represented Michael Rosfeld, a former East Pittsburgh officer whose homicide trial begins Tuesday in the death of 17-year-old Rankin youth Antwon Rose II. Mr. Rosfeld was not part of a union at the time of the June 19 shooting.
Officer Swartzwelder said that in any case, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. did not charge him with a crime following the grand jury’s probe. “The district attorney made his decision, and I’m comfortable living with that decision,” said the officer.
In the report released in December, the Allegheny County grand jury explained why there were not going to be criminal charges.
“While we find the actions of Robert Swartzwelder fall short of meriting a recommendation of criminal charges, we so find only because no one with any authority told him to stand down when they should have,” the report stated. “We cannot allege that he obstructed the administration of justice where those who are tasked with enforcing the law did not act on their authority.”
The grand jury blasted Officer Swartzwelder for his conduct in connection with the investigation of two police shootings.
The grand jury accused the union president of trying to block investigators, orchestrating a lack of cooperation with them and acting with “deliberate malfeasance” and “utter disregard” for the police bureau’s policies and ethical standards.
The grand jury said Officer Swartzwelder “fought at every stage to ensure those tasked with overseeing the investigation would not be provided with all the facts and evidence necessary to determine whether the officers were justified in their actions.”
In the Jan. 22, 2017 fatal shooting of a Larimer homeowner by police, the report claimed that Officer Swartzwelder tried to impede the investigation by interfering with the ability of detectives from the district attorney’s office to interview the officers involved or read them Miranda warnings.
In a non-fatal shooting in East Liberty on April 29, 2017, the grand jury said Officer Swartzwelder “bordered on criminal obstruction” by blocking district attorney’s detectives from viewing or speaking with the officer who fired.
Officer Swartzwelder and the FOP wrote in a response to the grand jury report that “several of the factual claims” in the report “are not accurate.”
The FOP response said union officials “strongly object to the report’s conclusions regarding the impropriety of [Officer] Swartzwelder’s conduct” at the various incidents, and said he was doing his job as union president and protecting the rights of police officers.
At the time, Mayor Bill Peduto said that the city cooperated fully with the grand jury investigation, and emphasized that Allegheny County police now investigate the city’s officer-involved shootings.
The petition claims that the grand jury report outlined a “culture of police corruption,” and that Officer Swartzwelder “orchestrated a cover-up that kept investigators from determining if the shootings were justified and whether the officers who pulled the trigger should be held accountable.” It added the accusation that superior officers “did nothing to stop him.”
“We have to fire police officers who break the law and abuse their power, and confront police unions when they perpetuate a culture of corruption and impunity,” it continued, calling on the mayor, city council and Pittsburgh police Chief Scott Schubert to fire Officer Swartzwelder.
A spokesman for the city Public Safety Department declined comment.
Jasiri X said he knew that Officer Swartzwelder did not represent Mr. Rosfeld. However, he said, the Rosfeld trial is “one of the reasons why we wanted to talk about [Officer Swartzwelder] at this time.
“I’m a member of the Pittsburgh community. I don’t hate police officers. … In this moment where we’re discussing police-community relations, the fact that he’s still allowed to be in this position representing police officers, it’s a shame on the police. … His presence makes me feel unsafe.”
He said that the petition will eventually be presented to city officials. The city has no legal obligation to respond to it.
Originally posted here: https://www.post-gazette.com/local/city/2019/03/15/jasiri-x-robert-swartzwelder-pittsburgh-police-union-petition-grand-jury-fop/stories/201903150093–