NAACP, CAIR Ohio call on feds to investigate complaints about West Chester’s police chief

Investigation report: West Chester PD chief shouldn't face disciplinary action
Updated: Jul. 9, 2020 at 7:50 PM EDT
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WEST CHESTER TOWNSHIP, Ohio (FOX19) - Two prominent civil rights groups are calling for federal authorities to investigate complaints about West Chester Police Chief Joel Herzog.

The NAACP’s chapter representing the Butler County communities of Hamilton, Fairfield and West Chester said in a news release Thursday morning federal officials should look into the complaints “so the truth can come out without bias.” They also said the chief should go.

“It is unfortunate in today’s society that you have to be shunned and give up things you deserve because you speak out against social injustices and wrong doings. These captains came forward with truths and they were not supported by the FOP, many of their comrades, and most of the elected township trustees. These township trustees hired an attorney, which at this point is not a third party fair investigation. It is a paid position that produces a desired result,” reads the statement to FOX19 NOW from Dr. Michael Reeves, president of the NAACP chapter for the Butler County communities of Hamilton, Fairfield and West Chester.

“No other police chiefs in other cities that made inappropriate racist statements have remained on their post,” he wrote, adding that instead they “have been terminated or they themselves have resigned.

“They were also not investigated by a lawyer on retainer, but by an outside investigator which is a non paid third party that fairly questions, investigates, then reports their findings. There are recordings of the captain’s interviews with the lawyer, but no recordings of the chief.

“We feel that with the two captains that have 20 years or more of outstanding service records speaks for itself. We feel that Chief Joel Herzog should not be placed on a performance plan. None of the other chiefs in other jurisdictions have been given that option and neither should Chief Joel Herzog.

“With a third complaint coming forth, and with a fourth complaint being withheld from the public, everyone is not submitting false accusations. This needs to be investigated on the federal level so the truth can come out without bias. The result being that Chief Joel Herzog be terminated or allowed to resign. The choice to be given to the two captains that they can return to their post if they so desire, so that they can finish out their careers without backlash or retaliation from any part of the West Chester Township Police Department.”

“These allegations are very serious and troubling. It is imperative that an independent body review these complaints and allegations. We call on the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division to investigate these allegations,” said Romin Iqbal, executive director of Council of American-Islamic Relations Ohio.

“West Chester Township should invite all police officers to report any issues and incidents of discrimination in the police department. The Township should ensure that any person who brings forward any allegations of misconduct or discriminatory behavior does not face retaliation from the police department.”

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Fred Alverson, declined to comment on the situation in West Chester specifically but said in general: “We will work with the civil rights division and the FBI anytime there is evidence that federal crimes have been committed.”

The executive director of the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati, Henry Hane, says they are in shock.

“We definitely are disturbed by the comments. Although they were made in private, it shows a lack of sensitivities or awareness about cultural sensitivities within our institutions such as police and other institutions who are in charge of our safety. We definitely feel that as an organization is it part of our duty and mission to help educate those in those positions about those sensitivities,” he said.

“Generally, we have a very healthy and respectful relationship with the West Chester Police Department and with the chief in particular, so this comes as a shock. We will reach out to them and see how we can help educate the department about these sensitivities so things like this don’t happen again. These comments may appear benign but they are not. They do have an impact on people and we do need to address that as a community.”

We sought comment from West Chester Township officials and Chief Herzog. On Thursday night, township spokeswoman Barb Wilson provided the following statement:

“The Township understands and hears the concerns of the community. Our community partners are appreciated. Complaints made against Police Chief Joel Herzog are being taken seriously and are being investigated. Further comment will not be made until there has been opportunity to fully investigate.”

Chief Herzog is accused in complaints by two of his captains and their attorney of a pattern of racism, sexism and other misconduct.

He should take steps to be “more appropriate and professional” — but he should not be disciplined for making inappropriate remarks to subordinates, an attorney hired by the township’s law firm determined in a report out Tuesday.

The outside review by Doug Duckett includes admissions by Herzog that he called Middle Easterners “terrorists,” Indians “dots” and referred to a Latino officer as “Brown Mike.” The review also confirmed allegations Herzog called African Americans who interacted with police “Number 2s,” and “at times commented on the attractiveness of women to subordinates.”

Duckett wrote in his review he warned Herzog against using such “lingo,” but he stopped short of urging a reprimand even while noting such language violated both township policy and anti-discrimination law.

More complaints were filed last week about the chief and we are checking to see if additional ones were filed this week.

So far, FOX19 NOW has confirmed at least four of the chief’s subordinate officers have made complaints, including the two captains - one of which who has since quit and been accused of dishonesty by a private attorney investigating for the township.

We are continuing to ask the township and now their lawyer, Don Crain,to release more recent complaints against the chief. They have not despite repeated requests in writing and an email and phone call to their lawyer Thursday.

RELATED | Fourth officer files complaint about West Chester police chief: ‘I was humiliated’ | Some West Chester police call for ‘no confidence’ vote in police chief; third complaint filed | West Chester police union leaders reject special meeting request for no-confidence vote in chief

The chief attended a regularly scheduled meeting earlier Thursday afternoon we are told police have with the community at Zion Global Ministries off Cincinnati Columbus Road in West Chester. The church told us we could come in, but our photographer said a township official and a member of the West Chester Liberty Chamber Alliance asked him to leave.

A resident, Steve Nguyen, who was inside and says he heard the chief speak, told us Herzog expressed remorse over making the insensitive remarks.

“He offered his regret for some of the comments that were out there, I guess, under investigation. He couldn’t comment too much because they are under investigation. He did express remorse, in my opinion, for the context in which they were taken.”

West Chester resident says police chief 'regrets' making insensitive remarks

When we asked the township spokeswoman about the meeting, she responded: “This was the third installment, I believe, of a three-part community conversation hosted by The Chamber Alliance of West Chester and Liberty. The event was by invitation only and the Township played no role in its planning. You might be able to learn more about the event from the Chamber.”

An attorney for the captains, Elizabeth Tuck, said: “We believe the Captains have overwhelming support within the department. The fact that several have made the courageous choice to come forward with their own concerns knowing they could be treated just as the Captains have is a clear indication. I have no doubt there are many more who are simply afraid to speak out.

Duckett urged township trustees to place Herzog under a “performance improvement plan” that makes clear such language is inappropriate in both public and private. He said he would have recommended action against one of the two captains, Hensley, for dishonesty had he not quit June 23.

The complaints accuse Herzog of making racially inappropriate comments about race, religion and sexual orientation, some of which he concedes to making but should not face discipline, according to a report released this week from a private attorney hired and paid for by the township’s law firm to investigate.

MORE: Investigation is over into complaints about West Chester’s police chief: Read it here | Investigator reviews complaints against West Chester police chief by captains, 1 quits

Duckett recommended the police department’s 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.”

It will be difficult for the chief to stay at this point and, if he does, the township continues to open itself - and ultimately taxpayers - to liability, says Cincinnati employment attorney Tod Thompson.

“The township has to be concerned, as do the citizens of the township, because now you have a department that is on notice of a problem and despite that they are not taking action to ensure those problems cease and desist. The township’s report is questionable in its integrity, there have been public allegations saying the report is nothing more than a sham, that the investigation has been essentially a sham. To the extent that all of this has been made public and to the extent the township is on notice of all that, the question is how do you handle this and how do you move forward?

"It appears that is going to be very difficult and it's a difficult decision to keep a public servant in office when you have these kinds of complaints and now even more of them.

“The police are there to serve the public. They are there to protect and serve the citizens and the public includes all of the people of the township, regardless of their race, regardless of their sex, regardless of their national origin,” Thompson said.

“If that department is going to have any integrity relative to its mission to the public than it has to maintain the trust and that sacred relationship with the public that it entrails an that trust extends not to trust with just white people, not just to men, not just to natural-born citizens, that’s a trust that’s supposed to extend to everyone. So I am not surprised that the NAACP is alarmed or concerned by this. I think that everyone should be.”

FOX19 NOW sought comment from the police chief and township on Wednesday morning in light of Officer Lopez’s complaint against the chief.

We received this email in response from a township spokeswoman, Barb Wilson:

“There will be no further comment from staff regarding the investigation at this time. 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.”

An attorney for the captains, Elizabeth Tuck, has blasted the report and its 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 has 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.

They attorney also has said the township’s report notes Chief Herzog:

  • 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.
  • Refers 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.”

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

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