Racist threats net 4 years

Former Hagerstown police officer targeted blacks in calls, letters

March 17, 2007|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,Sun reporter

A fired Hagerstown police officer who sent fear through city's minority community with a series of anonymous racist threats was sentenced to a little more than four years in prison yesterday after an all-day, emotional hearing in Baltimore's federal court.

U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz sentenced Jeffrey Shifler, 42, of Maugansville to 51 months in prison after the former police officer had pleaded guilty last year to two violations of federal civil rights law.

"Jeffrey Shifler terrorized individual victims and threatened an entire community. Thanks to extraordinary work by the FBI, Jeffrey Shifler's campaign of hatred was brought to an end and he has been held accountable for his crimes," Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said in a statement last night.

In his earlier guilty plea, Shifler acknowledged that he was the anonymous voice that 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.

In court late yesterday afternoon, Shifler pleaded for understanding: "I can only tell you that from the bottom of my heart, I did not intend to harm anybody."

The threats were "a ridiculous, misguided attempt on my part to get back at the Police Department for what I perceived to be a wrongful termination," Shifler said. "There is no malice in my heart."

But Hagerstown Councilwoman Alesia Parson-McBean, speaking at the hearing, rejected that explanation, telling Shifler he was "not uncommon" in Hagerstown.

"Mr. Shifler, I find you to be extremely arrogant," said Parson-McBean. "His behavior reflects a climate in our city."

During her campaign in 2004 and 2005, Parson-McBean and her African-American supporters received a series of anonymous, racially charged letters from Shifler.

He also anonymously called Parson-McBean's home, saying in part, "We're the KKK. We're about to take you down and burn your house."

The letters, one of which was written on photocopied Hagerstown Police Department letterhead, threatened harm to Parson-McBean and her supporters if she did not withdraw from the race.

Another victim, Bishop LeRoy Guillory, took the stand and told Shifler he forgave him, though he added, "For the most part, you knew what you were doing."

Two psychological experts for the defense testified that Shifler showed traits of an obsessive compulsive. Motz rejected defense arguments that Shifler had diminished mental capacity when he committed the crimes.

Shifler, who had worked in the Hagerstown Police Department before his firing, blamed its chief for his termination and sent letters in an attempt to harm the chief's career.

"He was very upset and hurt," Shifler's wife, Nicole, said in court yesterday.

In addition to hate letters he sent to city leaders and to the predominantly African-American organization Brothers United Who Dare to Care, Shifler also called in bomb threats to city schools and other public buildings in Hagerstown.

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.

Schools became his favorite target.

On Nov. 29, 2005, Shifler anonymously called the Washington County Board of Education and said, "There are two guns at North [Hagerstown] High and two guns at South [Hagerstown] High," and followed with a racial threat.

On Jan. 9, 2006, Shifler anonymously called North Hagerstown High School and falsely reported that there were guns in the school. On Jan. 10, 2006, Shifler anonymously called South Hagerstown High School, threatening to take African-American hostages and kill them.

He struck again later that month when he anonymously called E. Russell Hicks Middle School in Hagerstown and said, "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 Rupenthal [the school principal]."

On all three occasions, the schools were locked down.

"This was a calculated, deliberate, well-planned act over a long period of time," Motz said, adding that the defense presented "nothing to show that Mr. Shifler couldn't control himself."


The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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