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Ex-Mayor Appeared to Supply Ammo in '69 Riots, Witness Says


YORK, Pa. — Former York Mayor Charlie Robertson chanted "white power" at a 1969 rally of white street gang members, and minutes later appeared to hand one youth a package of rifle ammunition, a police official testified Thursday.

Robertson and two former gang members are on trial in the killing of Lillie Belle Allen, a black South Carolina woman gunned down in an ambush of a car that strayed into the gang's territory during race riots that ravaged York 33 years ago.

Robertson, a policeman at the time, was one of the first officers to reach the scene after Allen was slain July 21, 1969, in an eruption of gunshots, said East Pennsboro Township Police Chief Dennis McMaster, who worked with Robertson inside an armored vehicle during the riots. McMaster likened the deafening volley of shotgun and rifle fire to the sound of "the first day of deer season."

The day before Allen's killing, McMaster said, he was surprised to see Robertson lead a crowd of youths in racist chants at a rally at a park bandstand. McMaster said he then watched a youth approach Robertson's squad car and ask for "30.06" rifle ammunition for "home protection."

McMaster said that he did not see Robertson hand over the ammunition but that the former mayor was sitting in the front seat.

Another government witness, former Newberry Street gang member Arthur Messersmith, described a second occasion when Robertson appeared to offer rifle shells to gang members. But Messersmith, who has reached a plea bargain with prosecutors to avoid a murder trial, was unable to finish testifying when defense lawyers objected to inconsistencies with earlier testimony.

The degree of Robertson's interaction with the gang members is crucial, because prosecutors acknowledge that he was not on Newberry Street when Allen was killed. They are trying to use his inflammatory statements at the time and reports that he provided ammunition to link him to Allen's killing. Two other men, Robert Messersmith--Arthur Messersmith's brother--and Gregory Neff, are also charged with murder.

Fred Flickinger, another former Newberry Street boy, testified that Robertson suggested in an exchange during the riots that he would have taken action against blacks if he were not a policeman.

"He said, 'If I weren't a cop, you know I would be out leading commando raids against those' " blacks, Flickinger testified. Outside the courtroom, Flickinger said he interpreted Robertson's comment as "us against the blacks. It was the mentality of the time."

After the shooting, Robertson was one of several York patrol officers who arrived on Newberry Street. But McMaster and other witnesses testified that the officers did little more than call for an ambulance and order Allen's relatives who were in the car with her to drive away from the crime scene.

One witness, a former youth counselor named Robert Stoner, said that while other officers went to the aid of Allen's uninjured relatives, Robertson was seen talking with several armed youths but did nothing to confiscate their weapons or investigate the killing.

McMaster also testified Thursday that he found it "eerie" that York's police commanders sent "no sergeants, no captains, no detectives" to investigate Allen's death after Robertson and the other patrolmen left Newberry Street that night.

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