National civil rights group calls for WPD Officer Eichhammer’s removal for hanging Hitler photo

Eichhammer claimed photo in locker was a joke; Town manager unwilling to fire him

Ella Marx

Although Officer Craig Eichhammer stated that the photograph of Adolf Hitler in his locker was a private joke within the WPD about Officer Peter Moser’s supposed resemblance to the Nazi leader, the photograph continued to hang in Eichhammer’s locker for 19 years after Moser’s departure from the department. (Photo courtesy of David Russcol.)

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a national civil rights organization that focuses on racial justice, published a letter on Monday calling for the removal of Officer Craig Eichhammer from the Williamstown Police Department (WPD) for the officer’s display of a photograph of Adolf Hitler in his station locker. Despite the urging of the Lawyers’ Committee, as well as of local residents, Interim Town Manager Charlie Blanchard said he does not intend to discharge Eichhammer from the force, citing Eichhammer’s claim that the photo was meant to be a joke.

The Lawyers’ Committee letter, addressed to the Williamstown Select Board, Blanchard, and Interim Police Chief Michael Ziemba, pointed to the photograph of Hitler hung in Eichhammer’s locker as an indication that the officer’s presence on the force “undermines the WPD’s ability to effectively serve and build trust with the Williamstown community.”

This photograph, the Lawyers’ Committee wrote, “expressly violates WPD policies, which state that ‘a relationship of trust and confidence’ between officers and the Town community is ‘essential to the successful accomplishment of law enforcement objectives.’” 

Eichhammer gave a statement in August 2020 claiming that the photo, which hung in his locker from 1999 to 2019, was a private joke between several officers in the department. According to Eichhammer’s statement, which Blanchard sent in an email to the Record, the officers thought that WPD Officer Peter Moser’s middle-parted hair and mustache resembled Hitler’s, and they called him “Little Adolph,” a practice Eichhammer called “locker room talk.” 

Read Eichhammer’s statement here.

“Moser was fine with the reference and would just laugh it off,” Eichhammer said in the statement. “Myself being of German ancestry and having living and deceased relatives with the first name Adolph, I also thought it was funny.”

Moser left the WPD in 2000, Ziemba told the Record — and the photo continued to hang in Eichhammer’s locker for 19 years after Moser’s departure. It was shredded when the department moved into a new building in summer 2019, according to Eichhammer’s statement.

Eichhammer also claimed that the photo was exclusively associated with the officers’ private joke, not with the atrocities that Hitler committed. “At no time was it my belief that the picture was nothing more than a figure from a history book,” his statement reads. “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 out of the likeness of Moser.”

The Lawyers’ Committee letter, which was sent before WAMC broke the story about Eichhammer’s statement, alleges that Eichhammer is unable to perform his duties as a member of the WPD effectively because he does not possess the trust of the Town community. “In his current role, Eichhammer may be called to investigate hate crimes motivated by antisemitism or white supremacy,” it reads. “But his history of misconduct and tolerance for expressions of hate makes it impossible for the community to trust him to conduct such investigations.”

Arusha Gordon, the associate director of the James Byrd Jr. Center to Stop Hate at the Lawyers’ Committee, described to WAMC how other police departments reacted to acts of hate from law-enforcement officials, which the Lawyers’ Committee also detailed in its letter.

A California police officer who had affiliated with the Proud Boys, a violent neo-fascist group according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, was fired, Gordon told WAMC. “We’ve seen police departments and police chiefs, again, across the country take action to discipline or terminate officers who engage in activity that can be considered hateful,” she said.

Blanchard, however, does not intend to fire Eichhammer as a consequence for keeping the photograph, he told the Record. “I do not feel he should now be terminated for having an offensive photo in his locker that a Sergeant in the chain of command apparently knew about for several years but saw no need to take action on,” he wrote in an email to the Record.

In his interview with WAMC, Blanchard reiterated Eichhammer’s claim that the photograph was supposed to be a joke. “The photo was simply just to get a laugh out of the likeness of an officer who shared the locker with him at the time,” Blanchard said. “It puts an awful burden on the idea that this meant he was racist… there isn’t anything that I’ve seen in the records that shows there was any kind of activity of being a racist.” 

“I sincerely apologize for any problems these chain of events have caused,” Eichhammer wrote in the August 2020 statement.

The Hitler photo is not the only controversy involving Eichhammer. In 2011, he admitted to misconduct involving a Town resident in 2011 and lied about it to Johnson. He remained on the force, with only minimal discipline, as is set down in a last-chance agreement he signed the year of the misconduct. 

The agreement, which recognizes the evident justifications for firing Eichhammer, allowed him to stay on the force with limited consequences, including a one-year probationary period and the forfeiture of 10 vacation days. Another act of significant misconduct along the lines of the kind he admitted to, however, would result in the termination of Eichhammer’s employment.

In light of the scandals that have emerged in the WPD in the last year, the Lawyers’ Committee also urged Town leaders to enact changes within the department to build trust in the community. The letter commends the Town’s hiring attorney Judy Levenson to investigate reports of racial harassment and sexual assault within the WPD and encourages Ziemba and the Select Board to make use of Levenson’s findings in reforming the department. 

Ziemba wrote in an email to the Record that he has been implementing changes within the department since he became Acting Chief of the WPD following the resignation of former Chief Kyle Johnson in December 2020. 

I’ve been working relentlessly on [changes within the department] since I took over in December,” Ziemba stated. “Here are a few: Forward facing transparency, openness, availability, developing roughly 170 new policies and procedures, meeting police reform requirements, development of a webpage, maintaining staffing and additional expanded training (all while working within a budget).” 

But Blanchard is the Town’s “hiring and firing authority,” Ziemba wrote, so “any action that could be taken regarding Eichhammer would come from him.” 

Managing Editor Kevin Yang, who is an intern at the Lawyers’ Committee, was not involved in the writing or editing of this article.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Lawyers’ Committee letter was published on Wednesday, August 4. The letter was sent on Friday, July 30, and publicly released on Monday, August 2.