Key points in the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office investigation into racially charged text messages:
- Five sheriff's deputies are implicated.
- Two -- Capt. Thomas Flanders and Detective Michael Sollenberger -- are on indefinite suspension
- Three others have not been identified by name. They have not been suspended
- Text messages were exchanged on personal cell phones between November 2011 - January 2013
UPDATE @ 10:30 p.m. (Dec. 3): Although racist text messages at least two sheriff's deputies allegedly exchanged were private, their jobs could be in jeopardy because the sheriff was made aware of the texts, Jason Matthews, an employment attorney, said.
“It is possible that somebody could lose their job because of the messages, but I think a lot of it depends on the position that they hold,” Matthews said. “It also depends on whether they’re a private sector or public sector employee, whether they have certain protections, such as a collective bargaining agreement or personnel policies that would protect them from being terminated.”
The messages may have violated multiple sections of the department’s code of conduct, according to a review of the document. It includes rules that say employees shouldn’t express any prejudice concerning race or use language or engage in conduct that is unbecoming or derogatory.
The code of ethics section includes language that states: “I WILL keep my private life unsoiled as an example to all” and “I WILL never act officiously or permit personal feelings, prejudices, animosities, or friendship to influence my decisions.”
UPDATE @ 12:30 p.m. (Dec. 3): The Montgomery County Sheriff's Office continues their investigation today into allegations that employees exchanged text messages that contained racially insensitive jokes on their personal cell phones.
The sheriff’s office did confirm today that all employees sign a code of conduct, which includes morality clauses that could be relevant in the case.
News Center 7 has requested the personnel files for Capt. Thomas Flanders and sheriff’s Detective Michael Sollenberger.
UPDATE @ 8:55 p.m (Dec. 2.): Montgomery County sheriff's Capt. Thomas Flanders and sheriff's Detective Michael Sollenberger, both of whom are white, continue on indefinite suspension pending the outcome of the internal investigation into the sending of text messages, Sheriff Plummer said.
The remaining three deputies have not been suspended. Plummer declined to release their names until the conclusion of the investigation. He noted that two of the three are court security deputies and the third is a sergeant in the Regional Dispatch Center.
“They were in two important positions here,” Plummer said of Flanders and Sollenberger. “I needed to take them out of the mix while we conduct an internal investigation.”
Plummer said the deputies exchanged the racist messages on their personal cell phones between November 2011 and January 2013, noting that some were sent during duty hours. Others were directed at two black sheriff’s deputies, he said.
“The N-word was used several times as well as other racial slurs and jokes,” Plummer said. “Racism will not be tolerated in this office.”
Plummer learned about the text messages last week from Dayton Unit NAACP President Derrick L. Foward, who said the civil rights organization received them from an anonymous source in August. Dayton Unit officials conferred with the national office and its attorneys, and conducted a nearly three-month-long investigation to ensure the authenticity of the messages before going public.
Foward said the deputies should be terminated immediately if the sheriff’s investigation finds that they sent the messages.
“It is gut-wrenching to know that someone has that much hate in them, especially a (deputy) who is out enforcing the law every day,” Foward said. “We cannot tolerate anybody who harbors hate, and they are supposed to be out here protecting us.”
Flanders is president of the Centerville Elks Youth Football Association Inc., according to the nonprofit organization’s website. He and Sollenberger have been with the sheriff’s office for 15 years each and they’ve not had past disciplinary problems, Plummer said.
“I’m very upset about this because these five individuals have taken this organization three steps back,” the sheriff said. “They will be punished to the fullest extent that I am allowed to.”
Two Montgomery County sheriff’s deputies are accused of sending text messages containing racially insensitive jokes, according to Sheriff Phil Plummer.
Sheriff’s Capt. Thomas J. Flanders and Detective Michael J. Sollenberger have been placed on paid administrative leave effective Dec. 1. Three other deputies are also under investigation, but are still working and have not been identified by name.
Plummer said the deputies “tarnished the office” by sending the text messages, which were made on their personal phones. Two African-American deputies were mentioned in the texts, he said.
The deputies were in shock they were caught, “but did not apologize,” Plummer said.