A request for more information by a county prosecutor may land an embattled local police officer on a federal “watch” list.
Fayette County Prosecutor Jess Weade said this week that he has requested more information from the Washington Court House Police Department regarding one of their own; the request for information surrounds Sergeant Derek Pfeifer who has been under a cloud of controversy since his hiring in 2007.
The information Weade has requested involves an allegations that Pfeifer lied on his job application when he applied to be an officer with the city about a previous job.
The “N” Word
Pfeifer, who was promoted to Sergeant in 2019, was once a correctional officer for the state prison system. He was fired from the Ohio Department of Corrections in 2005 for allegedly making racial slurs. The state’s prison system said that the alleged slurs made by Pfeifer were the “N-word.”
In documents obtained by the Guardian, former co-workers of Pfeifer filed complaints against him after they say they heard him say the derogatory remark. One of the former co-workers wrote in a statement that, “While myself, NAME REDACTED, NAME REDACTED, and c/o Pfeifer was working in SMH having a general conversation he, (c/o Pfeifer) said he thought it is okay to call black people that word.” The corrections officer said that her ”daughter is black and that still don’t give me the right. I wouldn’t it any way because it’s disrespecting their race.”
Another corrections officer wrote in her statement that Pfeifer said he used the word all the time.
“Officer Pfeifer commented that he couldn’t believe that someone would be offended by the phrase. He said that he uses the word all of the time,” she wrote. “The officer did not apologize after we expressed offense to his comments and continued to attempt to justify his thinking.”
Both former co-workers said Pfeifer kept repeatedly insisting it was okay to use the word, the documents read; Pfeifer was fired for his alleged conduct.
A December 9, 2005 letter addressed to Pfeifer from the warden reads, “This letter serves to notify you that you are being removed from your position of Correctional Officer effective December 9, 2005.” The termination letter further says that Pfeifer was removed for “violations of rule 12, making obscene gestures, or statements of false, abusive, or inappropriate statements.”
The Application Lie
Pfeifer was hired by the Washington Court House Police Department in 2007, and according to his initial job application filed with the city in January 2006, under the section about employment history, he listed the Department of Corrections as a former employer. However, Pfeifer marked “no” when asked, “Were you terminated or asked to resign from this job?” and above it he wrote that his reason for leaving was that he “resigned.”
According to the job application with the city, any false statements made on the application subjects the applicant to discharge after their appointment and may subject them to prosecution under felony falsification.
The issue was discovered in 2014 by a local journalist and published in a news article, but nothing was ever done by city administration. Instead, in 2019, Pfeifer was promoted to the rank of Sergeant.
History of insensitivity
In 2014, Pfeifer posted a photo on social media of a sign that read, “No colors allowed,” inside of a biker bar. While the sign was about biker gangs, Pfeifer gave a “thumbs up” in a photo with the sign and captioned it on social media, “Silly white people” with a big smile.
Also that same year, Pfeifer posted online that he almost busted the heads of “hood rat kids” into the street.
Another posting around that time reads, “I see on TV everyday so many homo’s that are celebrated and labeled as ‘brave’ because they came out. Are they really America’s Heroes right now? Because that’s what the media wants us to believe. this country is going to hell in a handbasket!”
“WHYYYYYYY is El Dorados [A Mexican restaurant] closed on the 4th of July??? Who the eff at El Dorados celebrates American independence???? Seriously though……….”
In recent days, the issue has resurfaced in wake of the “Black Lives Matter” movement, which was reignited after last week’s death of a Minneapolis man while in police custody. As a result, citizens have demanded Pfeifer’s resignation and have also asked that he be placed on the “Brady list.”
On Tuesday, nearly 75 people gathered in downtown for a “Black Lives Matter” protest, while chanting and demanding the resignation of Pfeifer. The group marched from the county courthouse to the police department. While at the police department, the group chanted, “Hey, hey, ho, ho! Racist cops have got to go!” — a nod to Pfeifer.
The Brady List
Police officers who have been dishonest are sometimes referred to as “Brady cops.” Because of a ruling in a federal case known as “Brady,” prosecutors are required to notify defendants and their attorneys whenever a law enforcement official involved in their case has a sustained record for knowingly lying in an official capacity. Often times, these officers are unable to testify in trials because of their documented lies.
This week, Weade said he would be looking further into the matter.
“….an officer is placed on a Brady list based upon substantiated incidents of dishonesty or untruthfulness,” the Prosecutor said on Wednesday. “Those must be disclosed to our office by the Department. To date, the Washington Police Department has not provided our office with any evidence that Sergeant Derek Pfeifer has been dishonest or untruthful as part of his job, or as it relates to any other part of his employment, including the hiring process….”
The county’s top law enforcement officer called the allegations troubling and vowed to look into the matter.
“….the allegation is troubling, and I have asked the city to ensure that they have not substantiated a Brady violation. Ultimately, I will review the documents myself to see if there is a Brady violation,” Weade said in an email. “Upon the Police Department compiling the files and my review thereof, I will make a further determination….If upon a review of the relevant documents, he belongs on the Brady list, we will add him to it.”
A petition has been started online calling for Pfeifer’s name to be added to the Brady list. It has nearly 500 signatures.
Editor’s note: The Guardian’s editor, Derek Myers, is involved in the petition drive.