DAYTON, Ohio (AP) — An Ohio sheriff says he has fired two white veteran deputies accused of exchanging racially charged text messages.
Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer said he fired Detective Mike Sollenberger and Capt. Tom Flanders. They had been on administrative leave during an investigation into accusations of inappropriate text conversations on personal cellphones that included racial slurs and comments directed at two black deputies. The sheriff’s investigation also cited texts with comments about hanging or beating up black people and Sollenberger allegedly referring to President Barack Obama as “a half-breed.” Obama’s mother was white.
Three other deputies received suspensions ranging from three to 30 days.
Plummer said Friday that other steps being taken include cultural diversity training.
“We put a lot of time and effort into this,” Plummer said. “We feel the discipline is appropriate.”
The investigation stemmed from text messages officials say were exchanged between November 2011 and January 2013, with some sent during on-duty hours.
The sheriff’s internal investigation produced a 94-page report, the Dayton Daily News reports (http://bit.ly/1unIdoF).
It began in the aftermath of receipt last year by the Dayton unit of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People of 105 pages of text messages from an anonymous source. Derrick Foward, the local NAACP president, said they were turned over to the sheriff in late November after they were found to be authentic.
Foward commended the sheriff for taking swift and decisive action against employees he said shared offensive and “disturbing” messages.
“He exercised leadership today, and we applaud him for his courage,” Forward said.
Attorney Doug Brannon, who represents Flanders, said the sheriff’s decision to terminate him and Sollenberger was disappointing and unjustified. He said they didn’t exchange racial messages, but were framed. He said Flanders plans to appeal, and could file a lawsuit for wrongful termination.
“We feel he painted himself into a corner and reached a predetermined conclusion on the outcome of this investigation,” Brannon said of the sheriff’s report.
Gerald Bemis, president of the union representing Sollenberger, declined to comment immediately.
Sollenberger had been with the sheriff’s office nearly 20 years, and Flanders nearly 18.
Plummer said the three deputies suspended for ethical conduct violations all admitted their mistakes and were apologetic.
“This was an isolated event,” Plummer said. “We have 450 people. I feel we handled this. This does not reflect the entire organization.”