West Chester police union: Officers’ complaints about chief ‘merit a full and fair investigation'

West Chester police union: Officers’ complaints about chief ‘merit a full and fair investigation'
Six sworn members of the West Chester Police Department have come forward with complaints this year about Chief Joel Herzog, township records show. (Source: Provided by West Chester Township)

WEST CHESTER TOWNSHIP, Ohio (FOX19) - The union that represents West Chester police is speaking out after officers met late Monday for the first time since a controversy publicly erupted over complaints about Chief Joel Herzog by now six of his subordinate employees.

Herzog, a member of the West Chester Police Department since 1991 who became chief in 2014, was accused earlier this year by two of his veteran captains of a pattern of racism, sexism, retaliation and other misconduct.

In recent weeks, four other veteran members of the department - three officers and a lieutenant - also filed complaints with the township.

A private attorney hired and paid for by the township law firm at the direction of township trustees to review the captains’ two complaints determined the chief did not retaliate against them, appear in an alleged “blackface” photo or mishandle investigations.

The attorney, Doug Duckett, also recommended the chief should not receive formal discipline despite admitting he called Middle Easterners “terrorists,” Indians “dots” and referred to a Latino officer as “brown Mike,” township records show. He should take steps to be “more appropriate and professional.”

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

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Duckett’s review also confirmed allegations from the captains and their attorney that Herzog referred to African Americans who interacted with police “Number 2s,” and “at times commented on the attractiveness of women to subordinates.”

Some West Chester Township police officers have called for a no-confidence vote in the chief. They also questioned how the township handled the complaints.

The police union statement, however, does not mention calls for a no-confidence vote. It says:

“West Chester FOP Lodge 186 recently received and thoroughly reviewed the Investigator’s Report regarding allegations brought forward by Captain Gutman and former Captain Hensley. Neither Captain was part of the bargaining unit of Officers and Supervisors who are members of Lodge 186,” the FOP’s statement reads.

“The Report concluded the Chief made certain undeniably inappropriate comments which made the Captains and other members of the Department uncomfortable. Since the Report, other members have brought forward additional allegations which merit a full and fair investigation, without retaliation. This Lodge will always stand behind our members and their right to speak out on matters which undermine the professionalism and integrity of this Department.”

Last week, the local chapter of the NAACP and CAIR Ohio called for federal authorities to investigate the complaints against the chief.

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.”

One of the captains who filed a complaint against the chief, Jamie Hensley, abruptly quit June 23.

“I believe this is the only option left that protects my family, my health, and my career without compromising my values,” Hensley wrote in his resignation letter. “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.”

On Friday, township officials released copies of an internal investigation related to a “cronyism” Facebook post involving Hensley.

The internal probe found Hensley violated policies and procedures by “displaying disrespect and disdain towards the Police Chief and his position” and “making false or misleading” statements in late January, township records released Friday show.

Hensley filed his formal complaint with the township about the chief on Feb. 24. Another captain, Joe Gutman, filed a similar complaint.

Hensley’s internal investigation was referenced in Duckett’s report. He determined Hensley was “dishonest” in the situation related to the internal investigation and for alleging in his complaint the chief was in a “blackface” photo on Facebook, township records show.

Duckett wrote that Hensley can no longer be disciplined because he left the department.

“There were clear grounds to bring several charges of dishonesty against Capt. Hensley, both for statements in the meetings of January 28 and 29 and in my interview,” Duckett wrote.

“His 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 recommended the township put the chief’s performance on watch and have a psychologist conduct team-building exercises inside a department he said had a “dysfunctional and toxic workplace dynamic.”

“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.”

Hensley’s attorney has said dismissed the township’s internal investigation on Hensley as “a continuation of the sham paper trail the Chief has been trying to build on Captain Hensley as punishment for speaking up.

“The Chief asked for this investigation only after he learned Captain Hensley was hiring a lawyer. There is no reason I can think of to issue an investigation report for someone who doesn’t even work there anymore, other than to build a legal defense.

“I am sure people can and will see right through this. Apparently the Township will stop at nothing. Until the Township’s smear campaign, Captain Hensley’s 20-year reputation for integrity and honesty was unquestioned, and it still is to the people who know him and the situation both in and out of the department.

“Where is the investigation into why Chief Herzog thinks his employees would read the definition of cronyism and conclude it referred to him? That’s the real issue. Not when or how my client heard about his wife’s word of the day on Facebook. This sends a clear message to the officers whose new complaints are being allegedly investigated right now: back down or get dragged through the mud. Speak at your peril. It is unconscionable.”

A township spokeswoman has said Hensley’s internal investigation was complete, except for findings, but was halted to allow Duckett’s investigation to take place.

The final report of the internal investigation was completed last week “and, therefore, becomes a public record which some, if not all, of the media outlets have requested,” according to Barb Wilson.

“There is no administrative action to take as a result if this internal investigation because the subject of the investigation resigned/retired and is no longer employed by West Chester Township. The record, however, is a public document and is being released as requested,” she wrote in an email.

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, Burks’ 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 chief multiple times in the past few weeks, but the township spokeswoman told us Thursday: “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 last week, the chief wrote in response to an email from us requesting comment on one new officer’s complaint:

“It would not be appropriate for me to comment on a pending complaint. 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.”

Last month, Herzog firmly denied to FOX19 NOW the allegations by the captains, including ones he and his son, also a law enforcement officer, were seen in a “black face costume” photo on his wife’s Facebook page around Halloween 2015, according to Hensley’s complaint.

The chief has said he has faith that the community knows him better than that and he was working to be a better leader.

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