Oregon Police Officer Disciplined as “Nazi Sympathizer”

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

Jonathan Turley

7 thoughts on “Oregon Police Officer Disciplined as “Nazi Sympathizer””

  1. The governments of the USSR & Japan killed more than Germany did during WW2. It’s amazing we can fly the flags with the rising sun & the hammer & sickle with no problem (or reenact as Soviet or Japanese soldiers with no social stigma). Regardless if we approve or not, American citizens are entitled to free speech.

  2. Blech. Gack. It makes me ill to say this, but we have to defend this guy’s right to be a police officer (as long as he is doing a good job) and, in his own time, hold repulsive political views.

    Quite on the other hand, it seems to me that if this guy is part of a political movement or sub-culture that sees pacifists as one of their great enemies and also espouses the political view that state violence against political subversives is necessary, then that seems very relevant in a police brutality case. Fascism is notoriously hard to clearly define, but it seems that any version of it would include a political component that would encourage police to violently suppress anyone who voices an objection to the state’s action, particularly when that action is seen as an aggressive war to expand the state’s global political and economic power. It seems very, very relevant if a police officer holds these political views, and then goes out and commits violent crimes against protesters while on-duty.

    So here’s our problem. Here’s what the newspaper said was the core of his firing:
    “But now, a Portland commander and a Portland Police Performance Review Board have found Kruger brought “discredit and disgrace upon the Bureau and the City,” by building a public tribute to five Nazi-era German soldiers at a city park while employed by the police bureau.”

    They SHOULD have fired him for brutalizing protesters,in other words, committing a crime while on duty, which, itself, brings “discredit and disgrace” on the police. (Not to mention the fact that such actions cost taxpayers huge amounts of money.)

    So we’ve got a situation where they see it as less difficult to fire this guy for his political speech, knowing the firestorm of litigation that’s likely to create, rather than firing a police officer because he brutalized citizens. They’d rather face the ACLU than set the standard that assaulting citizens while on duty will get you fired.

  3. This is one I have trouble with. While I agree that public employees should not be stripped of their free speech rights, at some point that speech can severely impact the public service. When the speaker holds a position of power, and publicly espouses a position that would cause reasonable people to question whether that power would be exercised discriminatorily, it creates a problem. Part of a law enforcement officer’s job is generally to provide testimony in criminal prosecutions. An officer who publicly espoused the view that homosexuality is a sin and destroying the world would, inevitably, have less credibility in a case where such views might affect his perceptions. If such an officer were to be involved in shooting someone who is gay, the officer’s views would likely have a significant impact on the public’s perception of the shooting regardless of the actual circumstances. However, I’m not sure where the line can or should be drawn.

  4. There doesn’t seem to be much doubt that Kruger is a Nazi sympathizer. It is not a good idea to have people like that in positions of power.
    There were plenty of Viet Cong who fought heroically. What would we think of someone who built a memorial to them in the US? What about a statue glorifying the exploits of that brilliant strategist Ossama Ben Ladin, who struck a blow against the Great Satan with a few religious fanatics?

  5. And now there’s a Republican running for Ohio’s 6th district who’s also a Nazi reenactment fan. See Rich Iott. Photos and article in the Atlantic.

  6. Prof,

    With respect to the AG case the Assistant is on paid leave and expected to be disciplined upon return to work…UoM has banned him from stepping foot on campus and there is a PPO Personal Protection Order hearing set for October 25 in Ann Arbor, MI. The hearing will be to decide if it should be issued….I suspect Cox has taken a turn around since his earlier statement, he is accused of stalking, which is against the law in most states.

    This present case…Well..haven’t we already in some parts recreated Reich? This is just that much more proof of the Jackboot thugs that exist in Police Issued Attire….

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