Jurors hear testimony against ex-York mayor

Robertson roused gang, two former members say

October 03, 2002|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

YORK, Pa. - Jurors weighing murder charges against former Mayor Charlie Robertson heard yesterday that the then-patrolman attended a "white power rally" the afternoon before Lillie Belle Allen was shot to death in 1969, and that he stirred up the crowd of young white gang members by saying he'd be leading attacks on black neighborhoods if he weren't a police officer.

Two former gang members testified that the police presence at the rally and Robertson's encouragement led them to believe police had sanctioned their stockpiling of guns and the gang's intention to defend their neighborhood against blacks during a period of racial strife.

"I saw Charlie Robertson yelling `white power' and putting his fist in the air. After that happened, the crowd really erupted," said Stewart Aldinger, who was a 15-year-old junior member of the Newberry Street Boys gang in July 1969. "I got the impression from the actions of Mr. Robertson that we were kind of in the right and we had somebody backing us up."

Sterling Frederick Flickinger Sr. offered an even more damning portrayal.

Flickinger - then a 20-year-old member of the Newberry Street Boys - was standing with several friends outside the gang's hangout when Robertson drove up in his patrol car.

"We were curious. We were concerned. And we were frightened," he told jurors. The young men asked Robertson to verify rumors of blacks driving through town with a machine gun and shooting from the trunk of a car.

"He said, yes, they'd heard reports of those things," Flickinger said. "He said, `You know, if I weren't a cop, I'd be out leading commando raids against those niggers in the black neighborhoods.' I was surprised. It was a bold statement."

Flickinger, who left York 30 years ago and now sells motor homes in Texas, made the same allegation during a preliminary hearing in June 2001. But he did not mention it when he testified in 1969 after the riots in a civil rights lawsuit - an omission that defense attorney William C. Costopoulos is expected to ask Flickinger about this morning.

"This is one of those tweak jobs I referred to in my opening" statement, Costopoulos said in an interview, alluding to his contention that witnesses' recollections of Robertson have changed during the three decades since the riots.

Robertson has admitted raising his fist in the air and shouting "white power" at the rally, Costopoulos said. "That was testified to 33 years ago, he was reprimanded for that 33 years ago, he has publicly acknowledged it and he has paid for it," he said. "But it's not murder."

Jurors weighing the case against Robertson and codefendants Robert N. Messersmith and Gregory H. Neff also heard yesterday from witnesses who lived and worked in the North Newberry Street neighborhood.

One, Robert A. Stoner, a community outreach worker in 1969, said he called Police Capt. Charles McCaffery in the days after Allen's shooting.

"He told me somebody would get back to me," Stoner testified. No one did until investigators reopened the case two years ago.

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