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Shifler gets 51 months in prison

March 17, 2007|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

BALTIMORE - A former police officer at the center of a two-year wave of hate letters, phone calls and threats in Hagerstown was sentenced on Friday to 51 months in prison.

Acknowledging the fear and anger he created, Jeffrey Scott Shifler, 42, of Maugansville, said in court that he made a "ridiculous, misguided attempt" at revenge for being fired by the Hagerstown Police Department.

"There's no malice in my heart," he added, shortly before falling silent.

Two victims of anonymous racist threats, though, disagreed as they shared painful details about being targeted.

Federal guidelines called for a sentence of 51 to 63 months, said public defender Joseph Balter, who lobbied for time served: 13 months.

But U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz said the prosecution was reasonable in asking for the low end of the guidelines.

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Shifler, who also served with the Boonsboro Police Department, pleaded guilty in August 2006 to two federal civil rights charges connected to racist threats.

In a November 2005 call to the Washington County Board of Education, Shifler said, "We have two guns at North High. We have two guns at South High. We're going to blow the n-----s away," according to a statement of facts.

The second charge was for leaving a voice message at Hagerstown Councilwoman Alesia D. Parson-McBean's home, claiming to be the Ku Klux Klan. "We're about to take you down and burn your house," his message said, according to the statement of facts. "The end is near, n----r, so get prepared."

During the investigation, authorities alleged that Shifler targeted about 25 people and institutions with threats, insults and false crime reports, many of them racist or otherwise hateful. The two-year campaign included careful attempts to cover his tracks, including a "pay as you go" cell phone that didn't require a contract, according to court papers.

At a sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court in Baltimore on Friday, Shifler's wife described him as "honest, caring" and "very sensitive," as well as someone who "likes to have everything perfect."

One example she gave - his carefully scooping up bunnies from the yard and putting them in the garage when he mowed the lawn, then returning them to their nest - came up several times during the hearing.

Joseph Balter used testimony from people close to Shifler and from psychological experts to portray him as an obsessive but decent person who snapped when he lost his job.

Shifler had been a Hagerstown police officer for about 16 years before he was fired in 2003 for falsifying payroll records, according to court records.

Hate letters and calls started circulating in the following months, including some sent to former police colleagues.

Forensic psychologist H. Anthony Semone, a defense witness, testified that Shifler told him, "I just stepped out of my realm of who I am."

Motz was skeptical. "This was a calculated, deliberate, well-planned act over a long period of time," he said.

Two people who read victim impact statements in court faced Shifler and chastised him.

LeRoy J. Guillory, who introduced himself as a bishop, read aloud two hateful letters he received, including profane references and racial slurs.

Guillory - an activist from California who surfaced in Hagerstown in 2004, complained about the city's racism and then left - said he rejected the psychological theory of Shifler's behavior.

"When you wrote the letters, you knew what you were doing," he said.

Parson-McBean read from a long statement, at times addressing Shifler by name.

"This type of hate wreaks havoc," she said. "It's devastating and is long-lasting."

Parson-McBean, the first African-American elected to the Hagerstown City Council, said "a madman who only had hatred in his heart" tried to tear the city apart along racial lines and inflicted pain on her and her family.

Talking to reporters outside the courthouse, Parson-McBean said, "Let's move on to the healing."

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