We have been following cases where public employees have been disciplined or fired for activities in their private lives from teachers to coaches to lunch ladies (and here and here) to prison guards to city officials to police officers. There have also been such cases involving private employers as well as international cases (here). Now, Portland police Capt. Mark Kruger has been disciplined for his actions celebrating the exploits of German soldiers — actions that have labeled him a “Nazi sympathizer.”
The case is somewhat complex. Kruger was previously charged with excessive force and city attorneys are accused of hiding evidence showing his Nazi sympathies. Obviously, if a court ordered the release of such evidence, it is worthy of punishment by anyone who withheld it.
The story below however suggests that Kruger was specifically disciplined for his alleged Nazi sympathies, a matter that would be viewed as part of this first amendment rights and private life.
Kruger’s supporters insist that he is simply a history buff, military history collector, and someone who has dressed in German uniforms part of a World War II reenactment club.
However, the Portland Police Performance Review Board specifically charges Kruger with building a tribute to five German soldiers in a City park. Once again, I can understand problems with building unapproved tributes in a park but the use of the content of the tribute raises some interesting questions. Obviously, we would not question discipline over a police officer building a KKK cross in a public park. The Board is not, however, alleging a hate speech violation.
One of the soldiers is listed as SS-Obersturmfuhrer Michael Wittman. I assume that this is a reference to German Waffen-SS tank commander Michael Wittmann. Wittmann died as a famed Captain who was credited with the destruction of a near record number of vehicles, including but not limited to 138 tanks and 132 anti-tank guns. He was the tank commander who ambushed of elements of the British 7th Armored Division, during the Battle of Villers-Bocage on June 13, 1944.
The plaques also included Kdr. Harald von Hirschfeld. Hirschfeld is a particularly disturbing addition. For those of us who are military history buffs, Hirschfeld is a particularly dark and vile figure. He was one of the commanders responsible for the Acqui or Cephalonia massacre where the Germans shot or drowned 5000 captured soldiers on the Greek island of Cephalonia in 1943.
Kruger constructed the memorial, but the plaques were later removed before investigators could find them. Officials allege that Kruger called the memorial “Ehrenbaum” or “Honor Tree.” It was reportedly composed of a wooden board with plastic plaques attached.
At the time, Kruger was named in lawsuits over excessive force against anti-war protesters. The plaintiffs accused Kruger of being a Nazi sympathizer and filed a discovery demand that would have included the plaques.
In a deposition, an associate testified that Kruger wanted to put the plaques where people would not disturb it. The city fought the effort of the Plaintiffs to gain further evidence — specifically objecting in a filing that “Sergeant Kruger’s interest in German military history and related hobbies (military reenacting and collecting military memorabilia and books on military history) are not relevant to the claim or defense of any party and no further discovery should be allowed as to these matters.”
Two of the lawsuits were settled for $300,000.
It presents an interesting case in our ongoing discussion of the discipline of public officials for actions taken in their private lives. In my view, Kruger is entitled to be a Nazi sympathizer, if he is, but the public placement of the plaques undermines the first amendment claim. I dealt with such a difficult case in a recent interview in the Michigan case involving Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell.
Source: Oregon Live