Police officer ordered held

Ruling overturned on release of man accused of threats

June 17, 2006|By MATTHEW DOLAN | MATTHEW DOLAN,SUN REPORTER

Lawyers for a Western Maryland police officer charged with threatening public officials with anonymous letters and phone calls persuaded a magistrate judge this week to free the officer from jail pending his federal trial. Yesterday, a federal judge overturned the ruling and ordered the officer held.

"This is not an easy case," U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz said yesterday, adding that he had "real concerns about the precariousness" of the accused officer's mental state.

The unusual reversal also prompted more disclosures in the case, providing new details in the case against Jeffrey S. Shifler.

The 41-year-old suspended officer from Maugansville is charged with sending racist and homophobic letters to public officials and community leaders and calling in an anthrax threat to City Hall in Hagerstown.

Authorities said that during a search of his home, they found newspaper clippings of national sensational killings and a suicide note.

A picture of a local councilwoman was found next to a picture of a skull, they said. Prosecutors said one document showed the locations of local black churches.

There was a real fear, prosecutors insisted, that Shifler might have been methodically planning a campaign of violence ending with his own death.

Motz called the evidence in the case strong, saying it could be an indication of "irrational, hateful behavior."

Shifler had been a police officer for 16 years in Hagerstown before being fired in 2003 for falsifying payroll records. He was most recently an officer in Boonsboro, also in Western Maryland.

He was arrested in February and is still being held in federal custody. On Thursday, his lawyers temporarily won his release.

Yesterday, federal prosecutors appealed the decision by federal Magistrate Judge William Connelly to release Shifler. At yesterday's court hearing, his lawyers described the conditions for release signed off on by Connelly as a "security blanket."

Deputy Federal Public Defender Joseph A. Balter argued that Shifler would have been restricted to his family's house 24 hours a day, a home stripped of access to letters, e-mails and the telephone.

Balter portrayed Shifler's family as community pillars - his father is a retired correctional officer, his mother a retired emergency room nurse and his brother a retired Hagerstown police officer.

The family also put up $100,000 bond to secure Shifler release, Balter said.

"There is absolutely no evidence that there was any plan to do anything," Balter said.

But prosecutor Stephen M. Schenning objected.

"I don't believe it's in his interest to be released right now," said Schenning, adding that the safety of the community should be considered above all other factors in Shifler's bail review.

An affidavit filed by the FBI describes Shifler as a jilted Hagerstown employee who sought revenge by instituting a personal campaign of fear.

"Within months of Shifler's termination, members of the Hagerstown Police Department began receiving letters containing insulting and abusive language," FBI Special Agent Donald A. Neily wrote in the affidavit.

The FBI investigated the case, finding that threatening hate letters had been sent in 2004 and 2005 to city leaders and to the predominantly African-American organization Brothers United Who Dare to Care.

This year, the FBI found that city schools and other public buildings in Hagerstown received menacing calls alleging bomb threats and warning that students intended to take up arms and shoot people.

Other calls purported to be from the Earth Liberation Front, claiming that a "biological agent" had been set in a public place, court records show.

matthew.dolan@baltsun.com

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