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Bond denied

Federal judge cancels Shifler's bond; new details of case emerge

Federal judge cancels Shifler's bond; new details of case emerge

June 17, 2006|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

BALTIMORE

Reversing a day-old decision, a federal judge canceled bond for a former Hagerstown police officer accused of making numerous threatening calls and letters - which the judge described as "irrational, hateful behavior."

U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz's decision on Friday came after a prosecutor alleged that Jeffrey Scott Shifler, the former officer, had a fascination with news of murders and suicides and had alluded to his own death in writing.

Shifler, 41, of Maugansville, has been incarcerated since February. He has been charged with one count each of making threats by phone, making threats by mail and falsely claiming he had placed anthrax at Hagerstown City Hall. He is accused of anonymously targeting 25 people and institutions with hateful threats, insults or false crime reports from March 2004 to February 2006.

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On Thursday, U.S. Magistrate Judge William Connelly ruled that Shifler could be released on a $100,000 bond on his house. He would have to wear an electronic surveillance device and be confined to his home. Four adult relatives would take turns supervising him.

The U.S. Attorney's Office appealed Connelly's decision, so another hearing was held Friday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

Federal public defender Joseph Balter argued that Shifler never progressed beyond threats. He said there's "absolutely no evidence to show that he planned to do anything."

Balter said Shifler would not have been allowed, under the terms of the release, to contact any victims. There would be no cell phones or Internet access in his house, and other outside communication would be greatly limited.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Schenning, the prosecutor, said some items that Shifler collected - which were seized during the investigation - included news clippings about murders and suicides, information about Hagerstown's black churches, and photos of the city's police chief and a councilwoman. A picture of a skull was next to the councilwoman's picture, he said.

Shifler had left written instructions that upon his death, he wanted to be cremated and his ashes "to be disposed of in the trash," Schenning said.

Hagerstown City Councilwoman Alesia D. Parson-McBean has said she received racially threatening letters and calls. Other city officials and community leaders also have reported being targeted.

In an affidavit filed as part of a search warrant application, an FBI agent alleged Shifler sent letters with "insulting and abusive" language to Hagerstown Police Department members after he was fired from the department in 2003 for falsifying payroll records.

Motz said Friday he couldn't be sure how far Shifler would have gone.

"The threats themselves are (of) an extremely disturbing nature," he said.

Also, an apparent suicide note "causes me extreme concern," and indicates "someone who has thought this out and was prepared for the consequences," Motz said.

About 10 members of Shifler's family, including his wife, watched the proceedings. A family member said afterward that they had no comment.

In an interview outside the courthouse, Balter said the family is disappointed, but probably won't appeal Motz's decision.

During the hearing, the prosecution and defense attorneys argued about whether Shifler needed to be in court.

Schenning said it would be necessary, before Shifler were freed, to directly explain the conditions of his release and have him promise to follow them.

The U.S. Marshals Service has accommodated Shifler by placing him in an "outlying facility," preventing him from facing the "high stress" of a Baltimore prison, Balter said in court.

Motz said Shifler is being held in Allegany County. Federal Correctional Institution is in Cumberland, Md., but it couldn't be confirmed Friday that Shifler was there.

Shifler - who was fired from the Boonsboro Police Department after he was arrested - faces a maximum of 25 years in prison if he is convicted of all three charges.

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