WEST CHESTER TOWNSHIP, Ohio (FOX19) - Three West Chester police have officers have recently quit, including one of six members of the department who filed complaints about the police chief.
Officer Charles Hawkins wrote in his complaint that West Chester Police Chief Joel Herzog made racially insensitive remarks to him after he had received the results of an ancestry DNA test showing he had African and Puerto Rican roots.
"The Chief replied with ‘That’s cool, does that mean I get to count you as two minorities now?’ Hawkins wrote. “It was very inappropriate, racially insensitive, and outright unbecoming of a police chief... I was shocked.”
Hawkins stressed in his complaint that he did not think the chief was racist but “there are multiple officers at the police department who have had inappropriate comments made to them by the Chief in the presence of multiple other civilian staff and fellow officers. I am one of these officers.....”
In June, the local chapter of the NAACP and the Council on American-Islamic Relations Ohio called for federal authorities to investigate complaints against the chief that were filed by his two hand-picked captains who rose up through the ranks with him.
West Chester Township trustees recently announced investigations are over into all complaints from officers about the chief and there is no corruption, retaliation, or “underlying issue of racism or sexism affecting our organization.”
Hawkins’ resignation was effective on Sept. 5, two days after he submitted it.
“I would like to thank the township for the opportunity that has been given to me for the past 10 years to serve this community,” he wrote in his Sept. 3 resignation letter. “I wish all of the officers here the best."
Officer Nichols Hornback also resigned last week, effective Sept. 17.
Hornback was sworn in last year. He did not file a complaint against the chief.
Both officers told the police chief earlier this summer they planned to leave, according to a township spokeswoman.
“You would have to ask the officer why he gave a few days official notice," Township spokeswoman Barb Wilson responded when we asked why Hawkins left after providing only two days' notice. “As I stated before he expressed his plans to resign quite some time ago.”
A third officer, Tony Frey, resigned earlier this summer, in a brief email to the chief on July 29. His resignation was effective that day.
He had spoken out amidst the complaints about the chief and urged officers to hold a no-confidence vote.
Frey told us after he left he had planned to leave to focus on his home improvement business. He declined further comment.
Hawkins told us he has joined Frey full-time now in that business we reached him for comment this week.
He declined to discuss the complaint he filed against the chief or whether he was satisfied with the outcome and how the township handled it.
“I am not interested in revisiting that. It was not so much for me as it was for my friends who were afraid to speak up," Hawkins said.
He focused on expressing only the best for his former fellow officers.
“I completely wish them well. I have a lot of friends there and I hope everyone stays safe.”
FOX19 NOW has asked for copies of the three officers’ personnel files.
We went through a township spokeswoman to request comment from Hornback because he remains an employee who is subject to the township’s media policy.
We did not hear back on that request.
We also requested comment from the police chief. We received an email in response indicating he was out of the office until next week.
We asked the township spokeswoman how the police vacancies were being filled and for the latest staffing numbers.
“West Chester’s full complement of officers is 90 and we currently have 83 sworn officers (with these two resignations). Just five years ago, we were down to 78 officers. So, this is not an unprecedented situation.
“We don’t reveal details of how law enforcement resources are allocated. It is not unusual, however, to be short of a full complement of officers at any given time due to retirements, resignations, sick/medical, vacation, etc. The community continues to be served as they would any other time to accommodate vacancies for any reason.”
West Chester police filed six complaints in all this year about their police chief.
Hawkins was among four who filed separate complaints June 28-July 5, township records show. Those were investigated in-house, by township administration and human resources.
Those were filed and publicly released at FOX19 NOW’s request just before the township released a report on July 7 with the outcome of an investigation conducted at a cost to taxpayers of $50,000 by a private attorney into two other complaints about the chief from two veteran captains, Joe Gutman and Jamie Hensley.
The six complaints accused Herzog of alleged misconduct ranging from racism and sexism to 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, township records show.
Herzog has said his comments as described by the captains' complaints were taken out of context and he has faith the community knows him better than this.
He also has said he is working to be a better leader.
The private attorney who looked into the captains' complaints, Doug Duckett, 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.”
Since late June, more than two months ago, FOX19 NOW has been seeking audio tapes of Duckett’s interviews conducted during the taxpayer-funded investigation that cost $50,000.
We are now seeking legal assistance to receive copies of the tapes because we still do not have them, despite repeated requests.
In early July, the township spokeswoman offered us a copy of a transcript instead of the recordings.
We said we would take a transcript, too, if the township decided to have one made but still wanted the audio recordings.
Wilson said the tapes needed to be redacted in parts to comply with the law before they would be released.
“I’m saying it could be weeks before the audio tapes can be released. We will release them as quickly as possible after lawful redactions as is required,” she wrote us in a July 9 email "As you also are aware there are many records requests from you and other agencies and other people that also have to be fulfilled related to this topic and others; along with the other important work of the Township.
“I was offering a possible alternative that may have moved the process more quickly, but you are indicating that option has no value to you. So, we will set to work in fulfilling the requests you have made.”
When we checked again later that month, Wilson emailed us July 30:
"We offered an alternative, but you weren’t satisfied with the substitution (a certified transcript). It is not the number of redactions that takes a lot of time, it is the fact that someone has to sit and listen to all of the recordings to ensure it is redacted appropriately throughout. I believe there is about 30 hours of audio. The person responsible for doing this work is the same person who is responsible for gathering and releasing all of the other records you and others have requested. This employee also has other responsibilities beyond public records release. If we mistakenly missed a record or were not complete in response, I am certain the requestor would say we’re hiding something. Therefore, great care is taken to ensure the requests are being completely fulfilled accurately and appropriately.
“The public, and you, may not completely understand the time and effort consumed by fulfilling public records requests. West Chester takes its obligations seriously. We believe in transparency and honor the fact that we are doing the people’s work. The public, and you, should also appreciate the fact that the compilation of records for release is a time-consuming and costly process (taxpayer money) with regard to staff time. We are doing our best and will provide the requested records as they are compiled and available for release.”
At last check, on Sept. 4, Wilson wrote in an email she thought the police department was now handling our public records request and redactions on the tapes.
“The recordings were Administration records to release, but PD has better technology for the redactions. I’ll check on them Tuesday. I don’t think we actually calculated the hours, but I think we estimated about 40 hours,” Wilson wrote.