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'Bone chilling' threats

Councilwoman was most frequent target of letters and phone calls

Councilwoman was most frequent target of letters and phone calls

February 11, 2006|By DAVID DISHNEAU

HAGERSTOWN -

A former Hagerstown Police Department officer who was arrested Thursday in connection with hate mail he allegedly sent and threatening phone calls he allegedly made dating to 2004 made his first court appearance Friday in a federal court in Baltimore.

Jeffrey Scott Shifler, 41, of Maugansville, was arrested Thursday on allegations he targeted 25 local citizens or institutions over the last two years with threats of death, bombs and anthrax, and with messages containing insults and false crime reports.

Shifler remained in federal custody after a 10-minute initial appearance Friday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. Magistrate Judge Susan K. Gauvey scheduled a detention hearing for Tuesday.

Shifler's attorney, deputy federal defender Joseph Balter, declined to comment to reporters, as did the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Cunningham.

Shifler is charged with making the threats by telephone, which is a federal offense; by mail, which is another federal offense; and with falsely reporting that he had placed anthrax in Hagerstown's City Hall.

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He isn't accused of carrying out any of the threats, which continued into this month, but the messages - some printed on photocopied police department letterhead - prompted at least one building evacuation and increased racial tensions during last year's Hagerstown city election.

The threats began in March 2004, four months after Shifler, a 16-year veteran of the Hagerstown Police Department, was terminated for falsifying payroll records, court records state.

Hagerstown City Councilwoman Alesia D. Parson-McBean, one of the targets of racist letters and telephone calls, said Friday she took no comfort in learning that the alleged perpetrator, a fired city police officer, apparently was more interested in embarrassing his former employer than in carrying out his threats of violence.

"If he did all those things that are alleged that he's done, he was getting worse," Parson-McBean said. "Because if it went from just penning letters to just making phone calls, what would be next?"

Parson-McBean, elected in May as Hagerstown's first black city council member, was the most frequent target. In two letters and three calls to her and her associates, Shifler allegedly demanded she resign "or she will be burned on a cross." In some of the messages, he claimed to represent the Ku Klux Klan.

"When it's a letter and you read the hate, it's devastating," Parson-McBean said. "But when you pick up your phone and there's a voice, it's just bone-chilling."

A letter sent to John Lestitian, an openly gay man who is Hagerstown's code-enforcement officer, slurred both him and his partner, who recently had committed suicide.

A letter sent in December 2004 threatened the Rev. LeRoy J. Guillory, a fiery black activist who was managing the campaign of another black City Council candidate. Guillory, whose open charges of institutional racism already had made some in the city uneasy, created more friction when he publicly accused a Herald-Mail reporter of having sent the threatening notes.

Shifler is accused of having claimed in three phone calls last month to represent either the Earth Liberation Front or the Animal Liberation Front, radical groups that advocate using arson against animal laboratories and sprawling housing developments. The ELF claimed responsibility in November for a fire that damaged four town houses under construction in Hagerstown.

Shifler isn't accused of that crime, but one of the calls, a bomb threat to a Wal-Mart near the burned homes, prompted a 90-minute evacuation of the store on Jan. 21.

A background check of Shifler conducted by a Washington County Sheriff's Department deputy and a state certification agency revealed that he had been dismissed from the Hagerstown police department, but concluded that the basis for the dismissal didn't disqualify him from law enforcement work, Boonsboro Town Manager John L. Kendall said.

Shifler was suspended without pay on Thursday, Kendall said.

Kendall said Shifler's duties in Boonsboro included daily patrolling, writing traffic tickets and assisting at the public elementary, middle and high schools.

"As far as his performance in Boonsboro, we had absolutely no criticism," Kendall said. "He was friendly. He was doing exactly what we intended."

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