Petition drive underway to remove West Chester’s police chief

Petition drive underway to remove West Chester’s police chief
A petition effort is underway to try to remove West Chester Police Chief Joel Herzog after six of his subordinate employees filed complaints about him. (Source: Provided by West Chester Township)

WEST CHESTER TOWNSHIP, Ohio (FOX19) - A petition effort is underway to “Remove Joel Herzog from the West Chester Police Department.”

So far, 205 people have signed the petition on, which seeks 500 supporters.

A local civil rights group called SURJ Cincinnati - Showing up for Racial Justice, launched the petition drive and has put out a similar call to oust the chief on Facebook.

“West Chester Police Chief Joel Herzog has a history of making racist and sexist remarks. Since 2018, two West Chester Police Captains have filed complaints against Joel Herzog, and one resigned. Recently, four police officers made complaints against their captain.

The petition effort also says “Chief Joel Herzog has bred an environment of retaliation, among other things, that must be met with his removal from office as to not set a precedent for incoming officers in the department. We demand that Chief Herzog be removed from office now.”

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

Six veteran members of the West Chester Police Department - two captains, a lieutenant and three officers -have accused Herzog of alleged misconduct ranging from racism, sexism and retaliation to telling officers to not arrest other law enforcement officials suspected of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.

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West Chester Police Chief Joel Herzog shaking hands with a protester at a rally on June 2.
West Chester Police Chief Joel Herzog shaking hands with a protester at a rally on June 2. (Source: WXIX)

We have requests in for comment with all three township trustees. One of them, Lee Wong, referred us to the township spokeswoman, Barb Wilson, for comment. We reached out to her as well and will update this story once we hear back.

A private attorney hired and paid for by the township’s law firm at the direction of its 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.

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.”

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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.”

Township officials recently 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.

West Chester police are sporting facial hair to raise money for Hope’s Closet in Hamilton, a non-profit agency that provides support services such as clothing donations for foster children and families.
West Chester police are sporting facial hair to raise money for Hope’s Closet in Hamilton, a non-profit agency that provides support services such as clothing donations for foster children and families. (Source: West Chester Township Facebook page)

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

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.”

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 told FOX19 NOW.

She also 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.”

Township officials have said the human relations department is investigating the four additional complaints about the chief.

We have requested comment from chief multiple times in the past few weeks, but the township spokeswoman has 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 month, 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 believes his comments were taken out of context and he has faith the community knows him better than this.

He also said he was working to be a better leader.

The chief has retained support from the majority of the township trustee board that governs West Chester Township.

Two trustees, Mark Welch and Wong, have praised him either publicly at last week’s township meeting or in interviews with FOX19 NOW.

Welch has told FOX19 NOW the chief recently apologized to all three trustees during a closed-door executive session.

Chief Herzog also has readily agreed to the performance improvement plan recommended by a private attorney who reviewed the captains’ complaints against him, according to Welch.

FOX19 NOW asked last week for a copy of the chief’s performance improvement plan. The township spokeswoman said in an email response to our latest request Friday: “We do not have a responsive record to provide at this time.”

Trustee President Ann Becker said during last week’s trustee meeting she has “read each one of the complaints and I can assure you all the complaints are being taken very seriously by the administration and trustees and we are going to look into them and make sure the right and just things will happen for our police department.

“We will deal with this issue in a very deliberate and thoughtful way. As we move forward, we will make a serious decision. We do need to make some changes and changes will come.”

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