WEST CHESTER TOWNSHIP, Ohio (FOX19) - FOX19 NOW has obtained copies of another complaint about West Chester’s police chief, made by a third member of the force who has come forward with allegations of racially inappropriate comments.
And now some West Chester Township police officers are calling for a no-confidence vote in Police Chief Joel Herzog. They also are questioning how the township is handling the complaints and whether an outside investigator will talk to all employees.
These latest developments come after two veteran captains who rose up through the ranks with Chief Herzog, Jamie Hensley and Joe Gutman, and their attorney recently filed lengthy complaints with the township about the chief including allegations of racism and retaliation.
One of the captains, Hensley, abruptly quit last week, writing in his resignation letter:
“I believe this is the only option left that protects my family, my health, and my career without compromising my values. It is unfortunate to have been treated this way for taking a principled stance and others may fear coming forward in the future as a result.”
The following day, the township released a statement to FOX19 NOW saying trustees sought an outside investigator “to unravel the truth.”
In the latest complaint, Officer Charles Hawkins states in a 2-page memo “Regarding: Ongoing Investigation into Retaliation and Workplace Harassment” that he is writing to Township Administrator Larry Burks and the human relations manager “due to the fact that I have no confidence in the upper levels of the command staff in addressing my concerns.”
Officer Hawkins says he and other officers “have been subjected to similar behavior from the Chief. I would like to preface this complaint by stating that this does not come from a place of anger or retaliation, as I am simply assisting in adding to the truth of this conflict,” according to his complaint.
“I have been fortunate enough to find myself in a place where the repercussions of this complaint will affect me very little in regards to my livelihood. I say this, with the notion, that there will be repercussions, because quite frankly, in my ten years with the police department, all of us officers are very aware that speaking up about wrongdoings carries a significant penalty with it.”
He writes that bringing this to light “is more about the multiple officers who have had inappropriate statements made to them, and are in fear of speaking out due to the culture of retaliation. Those officers simply do not have a plan b when it comes to their livelihood and they are faced with the moral dilemma of speaking up for what is right or possibly not being able to feed their families.
“This is an internal conflict,” his complaint continues, “that these officers should not have to bear. In an atmosphere and climate in policing this day and age, simply speaking the truth and standing up for what is right should be applauded, not chastised, yet we find ourselves in this position. I reflected as two high level police officers sacrificed the safety of their families and reputations to bring to light numerous reports of inappropriate behavior by Chief Herzog, however, their courage and morals were met with a disheartening resistance.”
He also writes: “The behavior in question that I’m referring to is in line with the complaints of Captain Joe Gutman and Captain Jamie Hensley. I bring this to light not to paint the Chief as a racist, because I truly do not believe that to be the case. There are multiple officers at the police department who have had inappropriate comments made to them by the Chief in the presence of multiple other civilian staff and fellow officers. I am one of these officers.....”
His memo then outlines allegations about the chief including him allegedly saying:
- “That’s cool, does that means I get to count you as two minorities now?” and continuing to joke about “checking multiple boxes off” as other officers were shocked and the assistant chief was visibly uncomfortable after Officer Hawkins shared with other members of the SWAT team the results of his recent genealogy results. “This statement resonated with me, for one, it was very inappropriate, racially insensitive and outright unbecoming of a police chief,” the officer wrote in his complaint.
- Referring to two officers named Mike as “White Mike” and “Brown Mike”
“These are just two of the many examples that are being discussed around the police department in regards to racially sensitive comments,” Officer Hawkins wrote, adding that he comes forward “with a significant amount of encouragement from my fellow officers.”
“I am blessed to be able to be in a position to stand up for what is right and hopefully instill courage in the younger officers who serve this great community to hold each other accountable. That includes the Chief of Police,” his complaint states.
“This profession is a proud one, with decades of decent people taking on monumental tasks of all sorts, with one simple goal in mind, to make their communities a better place. We have signs hanging around in the briefing room, the room that officers sit in before hitting the street to serve the public that used to mean something.
“One of those is courage, and I encourage you to find that in yourselves to do the right thing and investigate these complaints impartially and with a clear mind. The officers who made this agency the premier law enforcement agency deserve better than this from the very top of the organization, because if nothing is done, and there is no accountability, then what does that say to that officer with two weeks on and 30 years left to go?”
Officer Hawkins ends his letter with: “Semper Fidelis,” a Latin phrase that means “always faithful” or “always loyal”.
It is the motto of the United States Marine Corps, usually shortened to Semper Fi.
Here is Officer Hawkins’ letter in its entirety, followed by emails FOX19 NOW obtained showing calls for an emergency Fraternal Order of Police meeting next week and a “no confidence” vote in the chief.
FOX19 NOW reached a township spokeswoman, Barb Wilson, for comment Friday on the complaint and calls for a no-confidence vote in the chief.
She provided the following statement:
“It’s unfortunate that this complaint is being addressed in the media before there is an opportunity to vet the complaint, speak to the individual making the complaint, or the accused. The Township takes seriously all complaints against employees, investigates them vigorously and acts accordingly. There is a process for responsibly releasing public records. West Chester remains committed to transparency and releases public documents responsibly and according to Ohio Public Record laws, regardless of the sense of urgency created by others.”
The chief is out of the office for the rest of the week and “not available for comment in general,” Wilson wrote to us Wednesday as we sought comment from related to the new complaint.
Chief Herzog has adamantly denied the accusations from the captains.
He has said he has faith that the community knows him better than this and he is working to be a better leader. Herzog has been with the police department since 1991 and chief since 2014.
When we repeatedly asked for a copy of the latest complaint against the chief earlier this week, the township’s spokeswoman wrote us in an email “.....there is no staff available at this time to release public records from HR or Administration. As indicated last week, the record custodian for these areas is out of the office this week. When she does return next week, she will have a tall stack of records requests to work through and will undoubtedly get to your requests as soon as possible.”
West Chester Township Trustee Mark Welch spoke with FOX19 NOW about the accusations.
Last week, Welch said the report from the private attorney reviewing allegations against the chief, Douglas Duckett, would be out Thursday or Friday.
Township officials have repeatedly said the initial findings of the investigation determined the most egregious accusations were unfounded.
Asked which those were, Welch told us last week they included racism and public record tampering.
The captains’ complaints and allegations against Herzog were not related to the handling of an investigation or efforts directly applicable to specific law enforcement activities in the community, according to the township.
On Thursday, Welch told FOX19 NOW the report would probably be out next week now.
“It’s going to be a little bit longer. They are having to redact certain information,” he said.
When asked to elaborate on what precisely, he responded: “The names of the innocent, family members, things like that. It’s just crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s. I believe the report is written, but we have to go through it and make sure there is not any information in there that will injure or harm an innocent person.”
He also said: “You will probably get it about the same time that I do.”
Welch said he was notified about the new complaint against the chief in an email from the township Thursday morning.
“I heard the same thing this morning, but I don’t know anything about it. I don’t know the nature of it or what’s going on with it at this point. I guess after the holiday weekend we will be able to get a fresh look at it.”
Welch declined to provide us a copy of the email he said he received from the township administrator, saying: “It has attorney/client privilege on it.”
Asked if the new complaint should be included in the attorney’s review of other allegations against the chief or delay the release of the report, Welch responded he didn’t think so.
He expressed some skepticism on the new complaint and said he had experience as a business owner with “disgruntled employees.”
“Whenever we had disgruntled employees what they want to do is stay in the minds of those relationships they developed at our place....they want to stir the pot. I’ve seen it a hundred times. People are people. When somebody leaves they want to stay in there swinging and trying to get their points across. So they could be stirring the pot.”