Inquiry clears former deputy's posts on German memorabilia website
A recently retired Washington County Sheriff's Office deputy and board member of the Washington County Police Officers Association violated no department policies by co-moderating a forum on a website dedicated to Nazi-era German military history, a spokesperson for the Sheriff's Office says.
The Sheriff's Office received an anonymous tip this summer about the deputy's activity on the website, which includes more than 2,700 posts since his membership began in 2002, and conducted an internal investigation, the spokesman said.
But investigators concluded the posts by Robert Zimkas, the former deputy, didn't violate any agency policies, and the Sheriff's Office cleared the complaint as "unfounded," the spokesman said.
A public records request for reports produced as part of the investigation was denied.
Zimkas has not responded to requests for comment by Pamplin Media Group.
The Washington County Police Officers Association, which represents hundreds of sworn Sheriff's Office employees, lists on its website Zimkas as a board member and senior division representative for the Washington County Jail.
Patrick A. Altiere, the president of the union's board and detective with the Sheriff's Office's property crimes unit, also did not respond to a request for comment.
Posts on the website Wehrmacht-Awards.com by Zimkas show he is an avid collector of World War II-era firearms.
Zimkas, known as "R_Hessian" on the website, has posted on it as recently as 2019.
The website celebrates the military of Nazi-era Germany, without explicitly including information on its main pages about the role Nazi soldiers played in the internment and genocide of Jewish people and other groups during the Holocaust.
The website is "focused on the awards, decorations and militaria of German Armed Forces during the Third Reich era," the homepage reads.
"Within the pages of this project you will find construction methods, manufacturing characteristics, and detailed specifications of vital interest to every collector," the homepage says. "Yet the site offers more than technical information; by presenting recipient biographies and delving into the historical atmosphere of the era, the reader is able to better understand and appreciate the experiences of the men who charged into battle for Germany throughout World War II."
From the homepage, people can click tabs describing Nazi-era soldiers' awards, including the "Iron Cross," a centuries-old German military decoration. Due to its association with Nazi-era history, the Iron Cross hasn't been awarded by Germany since the war.
"Perhaps the most impressive legacy of the Iron Cross is that, by luring the young into the past, it continues to pay homage to the valor of the old warriors who lived and fought in that different time, and in that different world," the page about the Iron Cross says.
According to a "disclaimer" tab, Wehrmacht-Awards.com is "an apolitical history site" and its use of historical symbols "should not be misconstrued as support for the ideals of the Third Reich or the National Socialist Party."
The page adds, "Wehrmacht-Awards.com does not condone individuals or organizations that use the deposed standards and symbols of the era to further their current political or social agenda. Likewise, this site does not support or embrace, and in fact strongly rejects, those who use the standards of the era as a pretext to (perpetrate) violence and intolerance in our time.
"It is imperative to recognize that explaining and researching is not excusing, understanding is not forgiving," the disclaimer continues. "A failure to study history in its entirety is nothing short of an indictment on the truth."
In a 2003 discussion, Zimkas signed a post with his full name and military rank in the U.S. Marine Corps. The post was part of a discussion about anti-American sentiments in Europe. Zimkas describes how his "grandfather was a young German (sergeant) in France during the war" who saw French people "shoot Parisians" and "throw rocks at British prisoners."
"We here have always looked to find good qualities in all countries but now we have like you started to find faults as in France," Zimkas writes.
The same year, Zimkas was introduced in another discussion forum by the website's president as "the new firearm co-moderator."
Zimkas' posts suggest he owns many WWII-era firearms, including semi-automatic guns.
Zimkas' interest in Nazi-era Germany is also apparent on his Pinterest account, where he has saved posts about Nazi-era soldiers and imagery.
In a section of Zimkas' saved posts titled "German," he has an image for a book about tracing German heritage online.
In another section of the account titled "badass quotes," he saved an image that says, "A harmless man is not a good man. A good man is a very, very dangerous man who has it under voluntary control."
According to a board member bio on the Washington County Police Officers Association website, Zimkas had a 20-year career in the U.S. Marine Corps. He is described as being "an avid target shooter."
An internal investigation by the Sheriff's Office into Zimkas' posts did not result in discipline, according to Sgt. Danny DiPietro, spokesman for the Sheriff's Office.
His retirement in September was unrelated to the investigation, DiPietro said, adding that the only complaint against Zimkas on file was about his posts on Wehrmacht-Awards.com.
"There was no policy violations," DiPietro said. "He is German, he collects memorabilia, and that is the extent of it. He's a history buff.
"I have no indication that that's what his views are, I don't know what his personal stance is," DiPietro said about whether Zimkas' posts suggested he is politically aligned with Nazi-era Germany. "We've had no issues with him. He was a great employee for us. I want to make it very clear, he did not retire under any negative circumstance."
"His social media posts were not connected to employment, did not demonstrate overt bias (or) constitute policy violations, and are protected by the First Amendment," the Sheriff's Office said in an emailed statement in part.
In 2014, the Portland Police Bureau settled a tort claim filed by a captain at the time who had previously been disciplined for showing an appreciation of Nazi-era memorabilia.
The city agreed to erase two disciplinary actions for Capt. Mark Kruger, including a suspension for nailing memorial plaques of five Nazi-era soldiers to a tree on Rocky Butte Park and a reprimand for retaliating against a female lieutenant. The city also agreed to pay Kruger $5,000 for his 80-hour suspension without pay, and Mike Reese, the city's chief of police at the time, wrote a letter stating Kruger's value to the bureau as part of the settlement.
Kruger's attorneys argued the bureau's director of services slandered him in text messages to a lieutenant in which the director repeatedly referred to Kruger as a Nazi.
Kruger was named as a defendant in federal lawsuits between 2002 and 2005 alleging excessive force during downtown anti-war protests.
The city denied the validity of Kruger's legal claim but said it wanted to bring it and all potential claims by Kruger to a close, according to a story at the time by The Oregonian/OregonLive.com.
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