WEST CHESTER TOWNSHIP, Ohio (FOX19) - More complaints about West Chester’s police chief are being publicly released amid calls by two prominent civil rights groups for federal authorities to investigate.
Two veteran officers claim Police Chief Joel Herzog told the rank-and-file earlier this year not to enforce some of the laws they were sworn to uphold.
Complaints dated Sunday, July 5 from Lt. Chris Whitton and Officer Raymond Jones state they heard the chief tell officers not to arrest other law enforcement members suspected of OVI.
“He stated he did not want the media attention associated with it,” Officer Jones wrote. “We were advised to find other options (call a friend, rideshare, drive them home). These statements were in front of ‘rookie’ officers with less than five years experience. I was in shock of what he had just said.”
Lt. Whitton wrote in his complaint: “I felt what the Chief said to the 3rd shift officers if carried out would be a violation of our Guiding Principles or even our Law Enforcement Code of Ethics. Police officers are not above the law, and officers cannot show bias nor do something they normally wouldn’t do because of social status or job title.”
Both men noted that discussions were held shortly after among the staff and the consensus was no one receives special treatment, despite any edict from the chief.
“The next day in briefing our immediate supervisor addressed the Chief’s comments directly. We were told not to risk our career protecting a cop. In the day and age where public trust is at an all-time low, my chief was asking me to give preferential treatment to police officers,” Officer Jones said in his complaint.
“It’s a shame,” Lt. Whitton wrote in his complaint, “that officers working the street have to be worried about the COVID pandemic, the anti-police sentiment, and the thought of not making it home to our families is as real as ever. Now officers, including me, have to worry about the internal issues going on, or retribution for bringing matters forward, which should be the last thing on our minds.”
Officer Jones also wrote in his complaint that writing it “may come at a great cost. Because of the statement I have made, I may be blackballed, looked over for promotions, retaliated against, or viewed as ‘disgruntled.' I may never reach my full potential at the West Chester Police Department. However, I have accepted that fact. No longer will I allow these factors to deter my decision-making. I will no longer be silenced.”
FOX19 NOW already has obtained and published two of the four complaints the townships released late Thursday, ones filed by Officer Mike Lopez and Officer Charles Hawkins.
Those complaints allege the chief made racially insensitive remarks, including referring to Officer Lopez, who is Latino, as “brown Mike” versus another officer with the same name as “white Mike.”
These four complaints come after a controversy erupted within the West Chester Police Department last month when FOX19 NOW reported details of other complaints filed by two veteran captains who rose up through the ranks with Chief Herzog, Jamie Hensley and Joe Gutman. Those complaints accused Herzog of racism, sexism and retaliation, among many things.
One of the captains, Hensley, abruptly quit June 23, 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 township released copies of the latest complaints Thursday night after multiple requests from FOX19 NOW.
Township Administrator Larry Burks also said in a statement an investigation is underway by the human relations department.
“Airing these accusations in the media and commenting on them without all the facts does a disservice to all involved and, in fact, minimizes the importance of the Township places on them. The Police Chief is not a publicly elected position. His comments, rebuttals, perspectives will be shared first with those to whom he reports.
West Chester trustees, the statement continues, are “committed to doing what is fair and right. Comments and actions that are sexist or racist, or discriminatory in any way are not tolerated by this organization; and neither are actions counter to expectations in the performance of duties.”
We have requested comment from the chief but earlier this week, a township spokeswoman told us “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.”
Earlier this week, on Tuesday morning, the chief responded to a request for comment we put in related to at least of the officer’s complaints, Charles Hawkins.
“It would not be appropriate for me to comment on a pending complaint,” the chief wrote in an email. “I will wait for the investigations to run their course. I am not interested in trying these issues in the media. A investigation must be conducted and complete before any comments are given.”
On Thursday, the local chapter of the NAACP and CAIR Ohio, called Thurday for federal authorities to investigate these complaints and ones recently filed by two veteran captains, including one who quit June 23.
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 Thursday: “We will work with the civil rights division and the FBI anytime there is evidence that federal crimes have been committed.”
Here are all the complaints officers filed in the past week and the township’s statement in its entirety:
A private attorney for the township just wrapped up a review of complaints about the chief by the captains.
Herzog, who has been with the department since 1991 and chief since 2014, said he called Middle Easterners “terrorists,” Indians “dots” and referred to a Latino officer as “brown Mike,” according to a report released earlier this week by the private attorney, Doug Duckett.
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.
The report also concluded “There were clear grounds to bring several charges of dishonesty against” Hensley.
The other captain, Joe Gutman, remains on duty.
Hensley’s “abrupt resignation before I issued my written report,” Ducket wrote, “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.”
The attorney who represents the captains, Elizabeth Tuck, has 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 has said.
On Friday, she said: “These new allegations corroborate my clients’ concerns and further indicate a troubling pattern of behavior by the Chief. If there was any doubt as to who has been untruthful in this process there should be none now. To my knowledge, each new officer to recently come forward has said they fear what will happen to them because of the culture of retaliation the Chief has created and the Township apparently will not address. The Township has failed at every turn to protect my clients. How many more officers have to come forward and risk their careers before they will listen and do their legal duty to protect their employees? How many good officers of integrity are they willing to lose?”
Duckett has 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.
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.
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.”
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 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.
Read the full report here, followed by captain’s attorney’s statement about it:
Last week, some officers called for an emergency police union meeting to take a vote of no-confidence in the chief.
Some officers have questioned how the township handled the captains’ complaints and objected to the outside investigator only interviewing a few employees, not the entire police department.
Police union leaders, however, rejected calls for an emergency meeting ahead of the regularly scheduled one on Monday, July 13.
“At this time, we have no evidence to suggest the investigation will not be a full and fair investigation and we believe the administration of the Police Department, including the Chief, is entitled to the same fair and objective evaluation of the evidence as we expect when there is an investigation of our members. A rush to judgement is not in the best interests of this organization or its members,” reads the union statement in part.
FOX19 NOW has continued to seek comment from the FOP’s attorney all week as new developments occurred.
On Thursday night, she said in an email: “West Chester FOP Lodge 186 has a regular scheduled meeting on Monday, July 13 where I anticipate the Lodge will discuss the investigation report. If the Lodge has a statement, it will be issued after the meeting. "