Ex-officer admits guilt in threats

In plea, former Hagerstown policeman says he targeted schools, black leaders

August 09, 2006|By MATTHEW DOLAN | MATTHEW DOLAN,SUN REPORTER

A former Hagerstown police officer admitted in federal court yesterday that he terrorized the city he once served, phoning anonymous bomb threats to local schools and targeting black leaders with harassing letters and calls threatening their lives.

Wearing a gray T-shirt and jeans, Jeffrey Shifler pleaded guilty to two violations of federal civil rights law. Shifler acknowledged that he was the nameless voice who threatened black students at two Hagerstown high schools starting late last year.

He also pretended to be a murderous Ku Klux Klan member when he called a black Hagerstown City Council member with a profane message.

"Any threat of violence based on bigotry is abhorrent. It is even worse when the threat is made by an officer against kids," said Assistant Attorney General for the U.S. Civil Rights Division Wan J. Kim, whose staff is prosecuting the case in conjunction with the Maryland U.S. attorney's office.

Shifler faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz scheduled sentencing for Dec. 8. Shifler remains in federal custody.

His attorney said Shifler's troubles started when Hagerstown fired him from its Police Department.

"He's now accepted responsibility," Deputy Federal Public Defender Joseph A. Balter said. "He's deeply sorry about the pain and anxiety that he caused the victims of these crimes. Mr. Shifler hopes that this plea can start the healing process."

The 42-year-old suspended officer from Maugansville had been arrested and charged in February with sending racist and homophobic letters to public officials and community leaders and calling in an anthrax threat to City Hall in Hagerstown.

Shifler was an officer with the Hagerstown Police Department for about 16 years. On Nov. 3, 2003, Shifler was fired for falsifying payroll. Later he became a Boonsboro police officer. After his arrest, Boonsboro officials suspended him.

Consumed by lingering resentment over his firing in Hagerstown, Shifler anonymously called the Washington County Board of Education on Nov. 29 last year, saying "There are two guns at North [Hagerstown] High and two guns at South [Hagerstown] High. We're going to blow the [expletive] away."

Just over a month later, Shifler called North Hagerstown High School and falsely reported that there were guns in the school. Four days later, Shifler dialed South Hagerstown High School, threatening to take black hostages and kill them.

On Jan. 24 this year, Shifler called E. Russell Hicks Middle School in Hagerstown.

"David and Jimmy have a .22 in their locker and are going to use it on teachers, then they are going to go to Western Heights [Middle School] and use it on [the school principal]," he said, according to court papers.

On all three occasions, the schools were locked down as students waited for authorities to respond.

In late January, he zeroed in on Hagerstown City Council member Alesia Parson-McBean.

"We're the KKK," he told her, according to court papers. "We're about to take you down and burn your house. The end is near."

The councilwoman appeared in court yesterday to watch the guilty plea but declined to comment afterward. Parson-McBean said the experience had traumatized her.

In 2004 and 2005, Parson-McBean and her supporters from a black community in Hagerstown received anonymous and racially charged letters from Shifler. The letters, one of which was written on photocopied Hagerstown Department of Police letterhead, threatened harm to Parson-McBean and her supporters if she did not withdraw from the City Council election.

matthew.dolan@baltsun.com

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