Officer Craig Eichhammer, a 31-year veteran of the Williamstown, Massachusetts police department, kept a photo of Adolf Hitler in his locker for two decades without incident. Two years ago, the photo was removed and thrown out when when the department staff moved into the new police station. The presence of the photo was raised as part of a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in August 2020 by Sgt. Scott McGowan, who claims that he was retaliated against for decrying racial and sexual harassment by the Williamstown police chief.
In his statement to the town manager last year explaining the presence of a photo of Der Fuhrer, Eichhammer wrote that his former partner on the night shift in 1999 was kidded in the station for his supposed resemblance to Adolf. “I stuck the photograph on the locker wall just as one would of possibly hanging a comic strip or picture they thought was funny,” he wrote.
“The photo was out of view and could not be seen even with the locker door open. The photograph was put up for no other reason than a laugh factor poking fun at [his former partner]. The photo was left there and basically forgotten about. It stayed in the same spot for 20 years and no one knew it was there….At no time was it my belief that the picture was nothing more than a figure from a history book,” he added. “I had no ideologies of Nazi Germany, swastikas or anything terrible that happened during WW2. Again, the photo was simply just to get a laugh of the likeness of [his former partner].”
Okaaaay. But predictably, many are not satisfied with the officer’s explanation. A letter demanding his dismissal from the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, stated,
“To flaunt Hitler’s image is to echo neo-Nazis and other hate groups that revere Hitler as a symbol of white supremacy. It is impossible to expect the community to turn to the WPD in the wake of a hate crime — whether that be a school vandalized with a swastika, or bias-motivated violence such as Massachusetts has recently seen — when there is a perception that WPD officers may hold the same white supremacist or bigoted beliefs as the perpetrators of those crimes.”
The Legal Redress and Race Relations committees of the NAACP Berkshire County branch also argued that the photo was a firing offense:
“Such behavior is abhorrent and reprehensible, in addition to being in direct violation of written (Williamstown Police) Department policy. Any public servant who engages in such behavior does not deserve employment with a public agency…We are writing to demand that the Town of Williamstown terminate the employment of Craig Eichhammer from the Williamstown Police Department for conduct unbecoming of an officer of the law.”
It appears, however, that Eichhammer will keep his job. The town’s select board ruled that it does not have the authority or grounds to fire him.
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is…
Would it be ethical to fire Eichhammer for his Hitler photo?
This is one of those ethics quizzes in which I have a very definite opinion, and your job is to talk me out of it.
Despite the rhetoric in the letters above, Eichhammer did not “flaunt” Hitler’s photo; if he did, that would be a different matter entirely. Nor is keeping a photo in your locker—it doesn’t matter of who or what—job related “conduct.” I know Hitler is special, but thought crimes aren’t crimes in the United States…yet. Absent a policy limiting what a cop can keep in his locker for his own private perusal, having the photo of someone the NAACP doesn’t like (Like, say, Woodrow Wilson), really doesn’t like (like Donald Trump), really really doesn’t like (such as George Wallace), or that all of the NAACP’s members, their allies, and pretty much all decent people everywhere don’t like (Hitler) is the kind of personal act that cannot be punished without creating a dangerous precedent greasing the metaphorical slope to enforced conformity of thought.
It is nobody’s business what a police officer thinks of Adolf Hitler, and nobody can tell him what photos he can keep in his locker for his own private edification or amusement. Maybe Eichhammer‘s explanation, as unlikely as it is, is the truth. Maybe he kept the photo of Hitler on hand to remind him of what happened to Germany when they constrained free speech and took away private ownership of guns. Maybe he thinks Hitler is funny looking. All that matters, or that should matter, is how the police officer performs his job.
However, I have to say this: What an idiot.