(WHTM) – For the second time in two years the Lebanon County District Attorney’s Office ruled an on-duty State Trooper was justified in killing another person. That decision is raising questions because the district attorney, Pier Hess Graf, is married to a State Trooper.
In her 46-page report, Hess Graf said Trooper Jay Splain acted lawfully and justifiably when he shot and killed Andy Dzwonchyk last November in Jonestown. Dzwonchyk was violating a protection from abuse order, was under the influence of drugs, resisting arrest, and behind the wheel of a car, according to the report.
The report concluded that Splain was in fear for his life when he shot and killed Dzwonchyk.
In an interview with abc27 prior to the report being released, Hess Graf says “every decision you have to stand behind it and there’s gonna be good there’s gonna be bad that comes with it but that’s the job, that’s what we signed up for.”
A year and a half before killing Dzwonchyk, Splain was in pursuit of Charity Thome, who was racing through Lebanon County while under the influence of methamphetamine, according to an autopsy report. Thome’s car spun out into a field and rolled slowly towards a police car when Splain and a partner jump out of their vehicle and fire several shots, killing her instantly.
Graf also ruled Splain was justified in the killing, which raised eyebrows because Graf’s husband, Corporal Christopher Graf, was Splain’s supervisor at the time.
“That idea that somehow his role or our marriage plays a part in this I frankly disagree with,” said District Attorney Hess Graf.
Hess Graf says when she became District Attorney in 2020 she and the President Judge hashed out a conflict of interest policy for State Police incidents. She says she followed the law and the conflict policy.
“So whether someone reading a social media article online for an ‘appearance of a conflict,’ it’s whether there’s an actual conflict and the answer is no.”
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“The fact that the District Attorney is actually telling the public that there has to be an actual conflict of interest right there it’s dishonest because that’s not what the law says,” attorney Devon Jacob. He is a former police officer turned lawyer who represents victims of police brutality, but has no connection to this case.
He says the policy is trumped by the commonwealth Attorney’s Act, which requires intervention by the Attorney General if “there is the potential for an actual or apparent conflict of interest on the part of the District Attorney.”
“We have her building into a case an actual apparent conflict of interest that’s gonna sow distrust. She should have kicked it to the attorney general’s office? Without a doubt,” said Jones.
When asked why she didn’t refer the case to the Attorney General’s office, Hess Graf said while it would’ve been the easy thing t do, it may not have been the “appropriate thing to do.”
“When I decided this was a job I wanted to take I knew there were gonna be hard decisions I had to make every day,” she said.
In addition to Splain’s two killings in Lebanon County, Splain had two other on the job deaths in his career when he killed Joseph Rotkewicz in Lehigh County back in 2007 and Anthony Ardo in Northampton County in 2017.
District Attornies in both of those states ruled them justified as well.
“What you have to look at, is at the time the trooper took the action in both of these shootings at the time he pulled the trigger at the time he committed the fatality what he reasonably knew, and reasonably believed in the moment, that’s the law,” said Hess Graf.
Jacob says District Attornies have too much power and have to refer the case to the state Attorney General.
“We’ve told the top cop that they have to answer to essentially subordinates. If you’re the top cop that’s it, you’re the top cop you get to make the decisions. The buck stops at your desk not a lower desk.”
“At the end of the day I have to look myself in the mirror and know I did my job properly and served the community properly,” said Hess Graf. “And shirking off a duty I know that i otherwise have to me is not the right way to do this job.”
Requests by abc27 to interview Trooper Splain were denied by Pennsylvania State Police, who say he remains employed but is no longer on patrol.