Sunday, July 25, 2010

Jackson Township, PA: Suspect in cop assault killed state trooper dad

Published: July 25, 2010

When Kenneth Schweiss was accused of beating a police officer recently at his Jackson Township home, it triggered a flashback to another violent confrontation he had with a cop 50 years ago.

A Jackson Township police sergeant left in an ambulance after his July 6 encounter with Schweiss.

On Nov. 20, 1960, Schweiss's state trooper father was carried away in a body bag.

Schweiss, then a 17-year-old high school senior, killed his father at the family's Huntsville Road home in Dallas Borough, shooting him in the head, chest and shoulder in an ambush as the elder Schweiss returned home, according to newspaper archives.

Schweiss spent more than seven years in prison. He lived the next 43 without a brush with the law.

Now, at age 66, Schweiss finds himself facing prison time again for another assault on an officer of the law.

After his release from prison, Schweiss married, raised a family and found steady employment until retirement from an area manufacturing facility several years ago. Many say he mostly kept a low profile - his dark past a closely guarded secret to neighbors who lived by him for decades.

His recent arrest ended his relative anonymity and put him in the public eye again.

Police charged Schweiss with injuring and threatening to kill Jackson Township police Sgt. Scott Davis in a July 6 attack when Davis arrived to investigate a domestic dispute at Schweiss's Jesse Road home around 5 p.m.

Davis was treated at a local hospital for a badly sprained wrist and injuries to the face and head.

See MURDER, page A11

Schweiss and family members dispute many of the recent allegations, and say the police wrongly portrayed him as some sort of monster. The past, they say, should be left in the past.

Memories of murder

For longtime residents on Huntsville Road, painful memories have resurfaced about the day a veteran lawman, Trooper Kurt Schweiss, 45, was slain at his home, just a few feet from Dallas Elementary School and its playground.

"We heard the shots. I looked out and remember seeing him fall down on the ground. We all started screaming," said a former neighbor of the Schweiss family who was 11 years old when the crime occurred.

The woman, now 61, spoke only on the condition her name not be printed, saying her family was haunted long enough by the tragedy and doesn't want to be publicly linked to it once again.

Her father was the first person to arrive at the Schweiss family home.

"He went down to see what happened and to see what he could do. Kenny told him to come in and he handed him the gun. He sat with Kenny and talked to him until the police came. He liked Kenny. He couldn't understand. Kenny was just one of us. He was part of the neighborhood. Would I ever expect him to do that? No. You don't know what makes people do things."

Newspaper accounts say Schweiss and his father had been feuding over his poor grades, which did not support the elder Schweiss's dreams of his son attending one of the U.S. military academies. Schweiss told police his dad had been "overly critical."

Police said Schweiss waited for his father to return home from target shooting at the Irem Temple Country Club and opened fire as he walked into the kitchen door. Trooper Schweiss dropped dead, half his body falling forward into the kitchen.

Schweiss eventually was convicted of third-degree murder and sentenced to seven to 20 years in state prison. He served the minimum jail term.

Over the decades since, the former neighbor said she often wondered what happened to Schweiss. Then, she was shocked to see his mug shot splashed over local newspapers after the recent alleged assault.

"I saw his picture. I was like, 'Oh, my God, look at this.' I was totally shocked. It was like someone out of the past. I wasn't even sure if he was still around."

Schweiss speaks out

To this day, Schweiss claims self-defense.

In a recent telephone call, Schweiss said he didn't want to talk about the case. But he kept answering questions.

"The biggest part of my defense was I got beat on a daily basis," Schweiss said.

Schweiss said his father, described in newspaper archives as an expert marksman, shot at him first, but missed.

"He shot at me and I shot at him," Schweiss said.

Schweiss said he would have beaten the murder rap if it wasn't an election year in 1960. The district attorney at the time, the late Stephen Teller, was running for re-election and was "bound and determined" to get a conviction for a cop's death despite evidence it was self-defense, Schweiss said.

In regard to the recent case, Schweiss said much of the information provided by police is false or blown out of proportion. He considered the incident more like a "home invasion," even though arrest papers say the alleged domestic violence victim told police to enter the residence.

"It was twisted in 1960 and it's twisted now," Schweiss said.

Schweiss referred further comment to his attorney Demetrius Fannick.

Fannick said he knows little about the 1960 case and the current case is his concern.

"It appears the matter arose out of a misunderstanding and the parties are trying to work through it," Fannick said.

Fannick said he and Schweiss will continue to plan to defend the charges in county court.

Schweiss faces one count each of aggravated assault on a police officer, simple assault and resisting arrest and two counts of terroristic threats. He recently waived his right to a preliminary hearing in the case, forwarding it to county court.

Luzerne County Assistant District Attorney Richard Hughes said he, too, was unfamiliar with the 1960 case and noted the current case is the one that matters now.

"I didn't know about it, frankly," Hughes said of the old case. "I'm focused on the current charges. If there is a time it plays a role for sentencing, that's something that we'll look at down the road. I know this is a case of simple assault, domestic abuse and an aggravated assault on a police officer who was trying to do his job. I intend to prosecute it vehemently."

The current case

On July 6, 2010, police were dispatched to Schweiss' Jesse Road home for a 911 hang-up call. When Sgt. Scott Davis arrived, a bloodied woman emerged. He asked if she was OK and she told him to come inside.

Arrest papers detail how Schweiss allegedly attacked Davis without provocation:

As Davis walked through a hallway, Schweiss appeared and pushed Davis backward. He then punched Davis twice in the side of the head and threatened to kill him if he didn't leave the home.

Davis called for backup and Schweiss continued to attack. As they struggled, they fell to the ground. Schweiss landed on Davis' left wrist. The injury immobilized the wrist.

A neighbor, township supervisor John J. Wilkes, then arrived to help after hearing Schweiss's threats to kill Davis. Wilkes helped Davis place Schweiss into custody.

Police said Schweiss continued to make death threats against the police and Wilkes.

Schweiss's wife, Gay, later told police Schweiss was drinking all day and was intoxicated when she arrived home. She said he took the household bills off a table and threw them in a fire outside.

When she tried to stop him, he pushed her to the ground, causing bleeding cuts to her left forearm and elbows. He told her the only way to get him away from her was to call 911. She did.

A son's defense

Schweiss's son, Randy, 38, called The Citizens' Voice on Friday to defend his father and say the allegations against him were uncharacteristic.

"So far, all you have done is portray my father as a horrible person. The father I know is a kind, loving and compassionate father. He still is today," he said.

Schweiss has three sisters, who were 13, 10, and 7 when the murder occurred. They still live locally, but did not respond to attempts to reach them for comment.

Randy Schweiss, of Kingston, said his father was a good man who had a solid relationship with his family. He questioned the need for people to bring up the past incident, which occurred before he was born, and noted his father avoided any kind of trouble for more than four decades. The younger Schweiss questioned the recent allegations levied by police and said there is likely more to the story.

"My father is a stand-up, law-abiding citizen. The Ken Schweiss I know has been nothing but a loving father to me for 38 years.", 570-821-2055

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