A sheriff’s deputy was suspended without pay after he was charged with six internal rules violations, including insubordination and conduct unbecoming an officer.
Sheriff Doug Cox had asked the sheriff’s office merit board to fire Sgt. Bill Pfifer after an internal investigation found that Pfifer had made comments about the sheriff that violated departmental rules after previously being warned not to, and talked about the confidential internal investigation.
Pfifer, a 16-year veteran of the department, received a 32-day unpaid suspension and will not be allowed to work part-time jobs that involve police powers and will lose his take-home vehicle during that time.
The sheriff’s office merit board found that he had violated five departmental rules, including conduct unbecoming an officer, not obeying orders, insubordination, making improper public statements and not displaying courtesy. A sixth charge of campaign activity was dismissed by the board. The merit board had the decision to do nothing, reprimand, demote, suspend or terminate Pfifer.
The internal charges stemmed from a conversation Pfifer had with Prince’s Lakes Town Marshal Greg Southers while he was on-duty earlier this year.
Southers told sheriff’s office investigators that Pfifer made comments about the sheriff that violated departmental rules. Pfifer had been given a written reprimand in 2011 when a sheriff’s office employee told supervisors Pfifer had a discussion about the sheriff that violated departmental rules.
At the time, he was told not to have similar discussions in the future, said Jim Sargent, the attorney representing the sheriff’s office. He was also told if he had similar discussions in the future, he could face discipline from the merit board.
“You can’t allow a senior officer to disrupt those serving with or under him,” Sargent said.
Pfifer denied that he had the conversation with the other employee in 2011. He said he had the conversation with Southers earlier this year, but that he did not make the comments Southers told investigators about. He said Southers had exaggerated or embellished a conversation about politics.
Attorneys for Pfifer also said the sheriff holds a grudge against Pfifer after he ran against him in the 2010 primary election for the Republican nomination for sheriff. Pfifer was moved from investigations to a position in the jail shortly after the election, and he is at the top of the department’s promotion list but hasn’t been promoted to an open lieutenant position, they said.
Pfifer also has a constitutional right to freedom of speech, especially to express his political views, and can’t be forced to have the same views as the sheriff, his attorney John Kautzman said.
“Our democracy doesn’t require you to support the cause,” Kautzman said.
Cox said he did not hold a grudge against Pfifer after the election, though he believed Pfifer held a grudge against him, and his decision not to promote him had nothing to do with any type of grudge.
Board members made the decision Pfifer should be suspended after hearing testimony from multiple sheriff’s office employees and law enforcement officials. The merit board includes five members, with two appointed by sheriff’s deputies and the other three appointed by the sheriff. The members are Joe Brown, Jerry Dunn, Jim Higdon, William Paddack and William Province.
In the disciplinary hearing, Southers said that he and Pfifer met for a break in May. During that conversation, he and Pfifer discussed the recent county elections and their jobs.
Southers testified that Pfifer told him Cox would be a one-term sheriff, that he doesn’t call him sheriff and instead calls him sir and that Pfifer had heard from Cox’s ex-girlfriend that Cox was involved in a relationship with a sheriff’s deputy. Southers then told another sheriff’s deputy about the conversation, and the deputy told the sheriff, who started an internal investigation into Pfifer. Cox talked with Southers and asked him to write a statement, and then Maj. Bob Sexton, chief of investigations, conducted the internal investigation.
Cox said he was disturbed by the comments and that he was not having a relationship with the employee.
Pfifer said he didn’t make the statements Southers claimed he did, and that he believed Southers was embellishing and exaggerating a conversation the two had about politics.
After Pfifer was told of the internal investigation, he then called Southers and told a co-worker, former co-worker and his wife about the case. Information about internal investigations is confidential.
Sheriff’s office officials said Pfifer should have known the information was confidential because that is in the department’s rules and he has conducted internal investigations regarding other employees in the past.
Pfifer said he was not told to keep the information confidential until after he had already contacted people, when he received a message from the sheriff’s office chief of investigations. He then did not tell anyone else, he said.
He said he should have reviewed the rules better.
Pfifer said he had talked to Southers but had not made the statements Southers said he had. He did at one time say the sheriff would serve one term, but that was while he was off-duty, campaigning for other county officials, he said.
“I don’t believe I have violated any rules,” Pfifer said.
Kautzman said under the sheriff’s office policies, he didn’t believe the comments Pfifer had made violated any rules or regulations.
What was actually said also likely changed when it was relayed through multiple people. And if Pfifer did discuss political issues, he has a right to do that, Kautzman said.
Pfifer said he was surprised at how far the case had gotten.
“The rest of this is an absolute travesty, and it amazes me it has gotten to this level,” Pfifer said.
Cox said the entire issue was troubling and he believed Pfifer was being dishonest. He said under the department’s rules, officers are not allowed to campaign for office while on duty or in uniform or make statements that bring trouble to the department or reflect badly on the department.
“I don’t know any CEO of a company or any other sheriff that’s going to put up with this kind of thing,” Cox said.
“We have rules for a reason, and that’s to keep order.”