CINCINNATI — A fired Hamilton County deputy "displayed support" for a militia group when he used its flag as his Facebook cover photo, according to a 57-page report documenting an internal administrative investigation.
Michael Stemmerding's Facebook public page posted the Three Percenter flag on Dec. 26, 2020. It was his cover photo for nearly six weeks, the WCPO 9 I-Team found.
The FBI has described the "3%" group as "a radical militia" involved in an anti-government movement consisting of members who “ascribe to extreme anti-government, pro-gun beliefs," according to affidavits filed by federal agents in criminal cases that include the Jan. 6 riot at the United States Capitol.
Sheriff Charmaine McGuffey terminated Michael Stemmerding last Friday, according to a statement Sheriff's Office statement provided to the I-Team.
"Yeah, it's very concerning, very serious," said McGuffey during an interview on Feb. 3. "We began an inquiry right away."
The Sheriff's Office investigation referred to two screenshots from Stemmerding's Facebook page that were discovered by the I-Team, then shared with McGuffey's public information officer, Kyla Woods.
On Jan. 9, while on-duty, Stemmerding posted a comparison between 'BLM riots' and the Jan. 6 riot at the United States Capitol, according to the Sheriff's Office investigation report.
Stemmerding's post listed far more damage and deaths resulting from the Black Lives Matter demonstrations. It claimed there was "nationwide outrage" over the Capitol riot, but "no outrage" due to losses of life and property related to some BLM protests.
At the top of Stemmerding's post were the words "YOUR OUTRAGE IS MANUFACTURED."
"We were also made aware of an alarming Facebook post he responded to by showing his support for the post by answering "3%," according to the investigation report.
In that Nov. 4, 2020 post, Stemmerding shared a series of debunked statements alleging widespread voter fraud that threatened to steal the presidential election from Donald Trump.
One of Stemmerding's Facebook friends commented on the Nov. 4 post.
"Prepare for war my friend..... I'm no stranger to it, but there are too many coincidences that just aren't adding up to me.....," wrote Stemmerding's friend. "I took an oath to protect this country from all enemies, foreign AND domestic..... That oath never expires..... Bout time to strap it up and get it on........ Completely sick and f****** tired of it...... Semper Fi! Let's Roll!!....."
In response to that comment, Stemmerding wrote, "lll%."
The symbol lll or III is seen on Three Percenter websites and merchandise.
The group's name comes from their belief that only 3% of Americans took up arms to fight the British during the American Revolution, according to the website of Kentucky 3Percenters.
Internal affairs interviewed Stemmerding, but his comments are redacted in the report.
The I-Team reached Stemmerding on his cell phone Tuesday, but the call disconnected after we requested his comment on the findings of the investigation and his termination.
We immediately called back. A woman answered the phone.
"We have absolutely nothing to say to you," she said, blaming the I-Team for "ruining [her] family's lives."
She said our story had been "one-sided."
The Sheriff's Office internal affairs report is identified as a 'Conduct Unbecoming' investigation.
Stemmerding 'violated' the department's social media policy, according to the report written by Lt. Andrew Guy of the Internal Affairs Section.
"Although it has not been proven that you are a member of this militia movement group or if you had prior knowledge of that group's beliefs or militia ties, you still displayed your support for this group," wrote Lt. Guy. "Which makes the public perceive you as a member of this group or someone who supports this group's radical views. This perception is detrimental to the Hamilton County Sheriffs Office and to you who holds the position of Enforcement Officer with the Hamilton County Sheriffs Office."
Retired Hamilton County Municipal Judge Fanon Rucker said Stemmerding's conduct was "absolutely inappropriate and justifies him being removed."
"I'm encouraged by the fact that this was brought to the attention of our new sheriff. She quickly investigated and action was taken," said Rucker, who is now an attorney in private practice. "It should in fact help to build trust between the community and law enforcement."
The I-Team first reported on Stemmerding in 2017 during our investigation of how local police departments disciplined their officers.
Stemmerding's personnel file showed on March 15, 2015, the Sheriff's Office took away Stemmerding's policing powers for an undisclosed period.
In a letter to Stemmerding, then-Chief Deputy Mark Schoonover wrote that the Sheriff's Office took Stemmerding's badge and gun because he had made "comments that have caused others to believe that you may be a danger to yourself or others."
In a Dec. 8, 2015, Instagram post also documented in Stemmerding's personnel file, Stemmerding issued a threat to Muslims: "Allah SUCKS Mohammed SUCKS Islam SUCKS Any of you Haji's have an issue with me saying this, PM me and I'll gladly give You my address. You can come visit me, where I promise I will KILL YOU In my front yard!!"
Stemmerding apologized if he had upset anyone, according to the memo, and said he was “only intending of expressing his views about Muslim’s (sic) and Isis,” and he “was unaware we employed someone of the Muslim religion but did not feel that this situation should rise to the level of discipline.”
Records in Stemmerding's file show then-Sheriff Jim Neil suspended Stemmerding for one day without pay following an internal investigation. Neil let him use vacation time so Stemmerding wouldn’t lose any pay.