2 men charged in 1969 killing of York policeman during riot

Rookie officer was one of two people who died in 10 days of racial violence

October 31, 2001|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Two black men were charged yesterday with fatally shooting a white York, Pa., police officer as he patrolled the race riot-torn streets of his hometown in an armored vehicle 32 years ago.

Stephen Freeland, 49, and Leon Wright, 53, were charged with first- and second-degree murder. Freeland is in a Pennsylvania state prison on unrelated drug charges. Wright was taken to the York County Prison about 5 p.m. yesterday, where he is being held without bail.

Both are charged in the killing of rookie police officer Henry C. Schaad, who was shot on the second of 10 days of rioting in York in July 1969 that left 60 people injured and city blocks burned.

At least one sniper bullet sliced through the one-eighth-inch-thick plating of the armored vehicle in which Schaad was riding, striking him in the back, thighs and foot and piercing his lungs. The 22-year-old patrol officer died after 14 days in intensive care.

"This is something I waited for for 32 years and something has finally happened," Schaad's older brother, Barry, 59, said last night. "There were periods of doubts and lulls when things didn't appear to be progressing, but we didn't have doubts that something would never happen. We always hoped and we always were waiting for that break."

Three days after Schaad was shot, the 27-year-old daughter of a black minister who was visiting York from South Carolina died in a torrent of gunfire after she and her family unknowingly drove into a hostile white neighborhood at the height of the rioting.

Nine white men, including York Mayor Charlie Robertson, were charged earlier this year with murdering Lillie Belle Allen. Robertson, who was a police officer at the time of the riots, is accused of encouraging and providing bullets to the white gang members who are charged with killing Allen.

Investigators returned to the long-dormant murder cases when they received new information after local newspapers published articles marking the 30th anniversary of the riots two summers ago. A grand jury was impaneled in September 2000 to hear testimony in the cases.

In May, authorities opened Schaad's grave and exhumed his body for another autopsy.

Schaad and two fellow officers in the York Police Department's armored truck were on the scene of a mattress fire shortly before 11 p.m. July 18, 1969, when they received a call about a man shot while riding a motorcycle, according to charging documents.

The officers were on the way to the intersection where the wounded man was lying when the truck was struck by gunfire.

A dozen witnesses told the grand jury that they saw Freeland fire a high-powered rifle at the armored vehicle and heard him bragging about the shooting. One man who was with Freeland on the corner that night heard him say, "I hit it. I hit the mark. ... I got the [expletive]," according to the charging documents.

A different witness told the grand jury that she saw Wright crouched beside the steps of a bar with a gun with a telescopic sight on it, firing at the armored vehicle.

Schaad, whose father also worked for the York Police Department, is the only policeman killed in the line of duty in the department's history. His badge - No. 164 - was retired by the department and members of the White Rose Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police recently began selling T-shirts in his honor.

"We always felt that we loved him, we'll never forget him and justice not done is justice unserved," Barry Schaad said. "And for this criminal act, we felt that somebody should be prosecuted and sentenced for their crime."

Although a murder trial likely would not begin for a year, the Schaad family is prepared. "We've waited 32 years," Barry Schaad said. "We can wait another year."

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