Investigation is over into complaints about West Chester’s police chief: Read it here

Updated: Jul. 8, 2020 at 12:28 AM EDT
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WEST CHESTER TOWNSHIP, Ohio (FOX19) - An outside review of complaints against West Chester’s police chief by his two captains and their attorney alleging, among many things, retaliation, racism, sexism, mishandling of public records and failure to address sexual harassment concluded “there is no basis” for him or the assistant chief to face any disciplinary action, according to township records released Tuesday.

Police Chief Joel Herzog, however, “needs to show significantly more care to be appropriate and professional in his conversations with subordinates and in the presence of members of the public,” reads the 54-page report by Douglas Duckett, a private attorney hired by the township’s law firm at the request of township trustees to review the complaints.

“He must particularly avoid any comment, including joking ones, based on a person’s race, sex, religion, national origin or ancestry, age, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity - that is the law and West Chester Township policy,” the report states.

"This is true at all times, on-duty and off-duty, for Joel Herzog always wears the role of West Chester Police Chief, and his words and actions therefore reflect not only on himself but the Police Department and the Township as a whole.

“A performance improvement plan for Chief Herzog should clarify and specify this requirement, and that failure to meet those expectations will end his service as Police Chief.”

The report also concludes “There were clear grounds to bring several charges of dishonesty against” one of the captains who complained about the chief, Jamie Hensley, who quit June 23. The other captain, Joe Gutman, remains on duty.

Hensley’s “abrupt resignation before I issued my written report mooted any need for disciplinary proceedings on that question, but given some of the reckless and simply false accusations that he hurled against Chief Herzog, it is important to state, for the record, my investigation’s conclusion that Capt. Hensley lied,” Duckett wrote.

More broadly, his report states, “the remaining command staff members to function, for this dysfunctional and toxic workplace dynamic to heal, each of them must communicate far more effectively with each other on a constant and open basis.

“That means that Col. Herzog and Lt. Col. Rebholz cannot avoid Capt. Gutman to avoid the negativity. I also recommend that the performance improvement plans for Chief Herzog spell out that expectation, including holding regular command staff meetings as well as structured communication sessions involving Assistant Township Administrator Lisa Brown.

“They should also be required to submit regular, joint reports with (Captain) Gutman to Township Administrator Larry Burks on their progress on rebuilding the work relationship.”

Duckett recommends a psychologist resume team-building efforts in the wake of this report, the resignation of Hensley, and “performance improvement plans that will be issued.”

“I do not know if the Police Department command team can get past the deep damage and distrust, but there is no responsible choice but to work hard at doing so. There may be other training programs aimed at improving communication and team building that the Township can consider requiring the members of the command staff to attend,” the report states.

“But unless this dysfunction and ‘guerrilla war’ among the Police Department’s command staff is stopped, and all involved commit to the hard work of making the individual changes necessary for that to happen, the situation is completely untenable.

“All involved need to understand that each person’s continued employment depends on making the changes necessary to rebuild that an effective work team.”

The attorney who represents the captains, Elizabeth Tuck, blasted the report and it’s credibility, calling it “malicious, offensive, and defamatory.”

“It blatantly misquotes my client’s interviews, ignores most of what they complained about, and is irresponsible with the truth and facts,” she told FOX19 NOW.

She said in a statement the captains “made a gut-wrenching decision to jeopardize their careers and expose racism, sexism, retaliation, and other wrongdoing at the highest level of the West Chester, Ohio Police Department. They did so after multiple internal attempts to have the Township address these very serious problems.

“Rather than address or report the misconduct to the Ohio Attorney General or another independent body, the Township engaged a hired gun at taxpayer expense to defend itself and Chief of Police Joel Herzog against the Captains’ very real claims of unlawful conduct.

“The investigation report produced to the media by the Township earlier today - without advance notice to the Captains - is malicious, offensive, and defamatory. Moreover, it was rushed to be released while other members of the department have been and are still coming forward to corroborate the Captains’ concerns, describe a ‘culture of retaliation’ in the department, and provide more examples of wrongdoing.”

“Instead of actually investigating my clients’ concerns about Chief Herzog’s racist, sexist, and other misconduct, the Township turned the investigation on the Captains to discredit them publicly and destroy their impeccable reputations. It is outrageous, as is the way the report and the Township downplay the Chief’s conduct” including:

  • “The Chief admits he calls Middle Eastern and Asian citizens “dots” and “terrorists.” The Chief admits he calls black people with whom the department interacts ‘Number 2s.' But according to the report that is just ‘lingo’ and excusable because of context. The Captains did not think so, and they are right.
  • “Referring to a Latino officer as ‘Brown Mike’ is not just a “joking reference,” because referring to an officer by his race instead of his name is not funny.”

The attorney said the captains’ interviews with Duckett were recorded, “although it is regrettable that a day and a half of Captain Hensley’s interview was not recorded, a fact that I discovered purely by accident. Recordings that were made were made on Township property – the public has a right to listen to those and judge for themselves. People should also ask why only the Captains’ interviews were recorded, and why Mr. Duckett never followed up with witnesses on allegations the Captains made in the interviews.

“Police reform – real reform – will not be possible until good police officers can come forward when they see wrongdoing in their ranks without losing their careers, especially where that wrongdoing comes from the top,” her statement also reads.

“It is unfortunate that what should have been a legitimate investigation into a matter of important public interest has been weaponized against the Captains, apparently to support Chief Herzog at any cost.”

FOX19 NOW has asked the township for any and all audio recordings taken as part of the investigation, drafts of the report and Duckett’s notes.

We were assured by Trustee Mark Welch in a June 27 phone interview we would receive the notes and recordings, but have yet to receive those despite repeated requests including as recently as Tuesday night.

A third officer filed a complaint about the chief with the township last week, Officer Charles Hawkins. We asked for that but was initially told by the township spokeswoman no staff was available to fulfill the request.

RELATED: Some West Chester police call for ‘no confidence’ vote in police chief; third complaint filed | Investigator reviews complaints against West Chester police chief by captains, 1 quits | West Chester police union leaders reject special meeting request for no-confidence vote in chief

FOX19 NOW also has learned a fourth member of the West Chester police department came forward with a written complaint about the chief just one day ago, on Monday.

We have asked the township for copies of any and all new complaints for two days in a row now but have yet to receive those, too.

Read the full report here, followed by the attorney’s full statement:

The township also issued a lengthy statement with the report when a township spokeswoman released it at 5:11 p.m. Tuesday.

Their statement reads in part:

“West Chester Township hired a third-party in March to investigate complaints and allegations by two West Chester police captains against Police Chief Joel Herzog. The findings of the third-party investigator are his, and are based on extensive interviews with all of those involved, his experience and legal expertise.

“All complaints made by the two captains were taken seriously with the intention of unraveling the truths and finding a path to restore a positive workplace culture for all.

“The report stands on its own and offers details about how events transpired. Township Administrator Larry Burks will continue to work with the West Chester Board of Trustees in weighing the outcomes and conclusions of this report, along with any new concerns brought forward, to determine next steps.

“The ultimate goal is a positive workplace environment for all of West Chester’s professionals, in order to provide the most exceptional service to the community.

“The report is lengthy and provides detailed insight and facts into the interactions and actions of the police command staff, drawing conclusions based on interviews and research. It goes into detail regarding each complaint made and deserves a full reading.

“It is up to the reader to draw his or her own conclusions from the report, but residents should know that the Township is not blind to the circumstances outlined and will take action in the best interest of the community.”

Read the township’s full statement here:

FOX19 NOW left a request for comment with the police chief and assistant chief.

We will update this story when we hear back.

“I believe in Chief Herzog. I know him to be an honorable person, and I will stand by him,” said State Rep. George Lang, R-West Chester Township. He was a township trustee when Herzog was named chief in December 2014.

“Let this be a reminder of how important all men and women of law enforcement are, and let us strive to defend, not defund, our Police Department.”

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