Two charged over 1969 race killing of policeman

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The Independent US

Police have arrested two black men and charged them over the killing of a white police officer during the 1969 race riots in York as the crimes of 30 years ago continue to trouble the historic Pennsylvania city.

The arrest of the two men comes five months after the city's white mayor was charged with the murder of a black woman during the same riots. The Mayor, Charlie Robertson, was a serving police officer at the time and on duty in the riots, which lasted 10 days.

Yesterday, Stephen Freedland, 49, and Leon Wright, 53, were charged with first-degree and second-degree murder over the shooting of Henry Schaad, a rookie police officer who was killed three days before the death of Lillie Belle Allen, the woman whom Mayor Roberston is charged with murdering.

Mr Schaad's brother, Barry, said: "It's something we have wanted for 32 years. Of course, I know this is just the first step. God willing, I'll still be alive and healthy to see the end result of the this – that being some convictions and sentences."

The dead officer's daughter, Sharon, said she wanted to understand why people had shot at her father, who had been in his job for only 10 months. "It's not like he was going in there with a gun to shoot at them," she said. "I just know they took my daddy away."

The arrests of the two men are the latest in a long and uncomfortable re-examination by the city of York of an unsettled and racially explosive chapter in its recent history. The race riots of the summer of 1969 were sparked when a black teenager was wounded by a member of one of several white gangs that operated in the city.

More than 60 people were injured in the riots. Houses and buildings were set alight and gunfights broke out in parts of the city. More than 100 people were arrested.

Mr Schaad was fatally wounded on the second night of the riots while he was travelling in Big Al, the police department's armoured vehicle, which was pierced by a bullet, allegedly from a Krag high-powered rifle. At least two bullets entered the vehicle, fragmenting and wounding Mr Schaad in five places – most seriously entering his lungs and hitting his spinal column. He died 14 days later.

Ever since, a portrait of Mr Schaad, the city's only officer to be killed in the line of duty has hung behind the front desk of the police department headquarters.

The arrests stem from a grand jury investigation into the two murders that lasted almost 14 months. This spring, nine white men – including Mayor Robertson – were arrested over the murder of Ms Allen.

The fact that nobody had been arrested for the murder of the young officer has troubled his family and the city's police department. It has also divided the people of York – many of whom believe the arrests were motivated more by political correctness than a desire for justice. What has also emerged is that many of the dozens of people who were forced to give evidence before the Grand Jury had been harbouring secrets for more than three decades.

Lieutenant Bruce Veseth said: "I think all of the York Police Department is relieved that the case has come this far. It provides some closure. It's long overdue."

Bill Vangreen, the city's police captain, added: "It's a good feeling to see these individuals brought to justice. That picture was a reminder to all of us not to give up."

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