WEST CHESTER TOWNSHIP, Ohio (FOX19) - Friday was the last day on the job for a veteran West Chester police captain who recently filed a formal job complaint accusing township officials and the chief of discrimination and retaliation.
Captain Joe Gutman. 49, is the second high-ranking official to leave the West Chester Police Department within the last six months. He started working there in 1995.
“I made the difficult decision to report inappropriate, discriminatory conduct that affected me and others,” Gutman wrote in his Dec. 31 resignation letter.
“How this was handled by the administration as well as them ignoring the many other legitimate complaints from professional police officers and the retaliation has made the working environment here intolerable. Our complaints were essentially ignored and in some cases, the blame was placed on the whistleblowers, including me. For that reason, retiring is the safest and healthiest option for myself and my family.”
Barb Wilson, a township spokeswoman said: “Captain Gutman’s service to the community is greatly appreciated and we wish him much luck and success in all of his future endeavors.”
The police chief did not respond to a request for comment.
Gutman and then-fellow Captain Jamie Hensley filed complaints with the township in early 2020, accusing Chief Joel Herzog of inappropriate behavior.
Township trustees directed their law firm to hire an independent lawyer to look into the allegations.
Hensley abruptly quit in June before the results of the outside investigation were released.
Four more complaints about the chief were then filed with the township: one by a lieutenant and three by officers.
The six total complaints 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, township records show.
The local chapter of the NAACP and the Council on American-Islamic Relations Ohio called for federal authorities to investigate.
The four additional complaints were filed just before the township released a report on July 7 with the outcome of an investigation conducted by an outside attorney, Doug Duckett, into the captains’ complaints about the chief.
Duckett concluded “there is no basis” for Herzog or the assistant chief to face disciplinary action over the allegations, but he did find Herzog made “careless” and inappropriate comments about race, religion and sexual orientation.
West Chester released a police internal investigation report shortly after that said 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.
Herzog and Gutman, meanwhile, were given performance improvement plans to address “two years of conflict and dysfunction within the command staff” at the police department.
West Chester Trustee President Ann Becker announced in late July investigations are over into all complaints from officers about the chief and there was no corruption, retaliation, or “underlying issue of racism or sexism affecting our organization.”
She acknowledged Herzog’s shortcomings and reiterated support for him: “We move forward supporting Chief Joel Herzog in his resolve to heal the department,” she said, reading from a prepared statement.
Becker then admonished the captains for their treatment of Herzog’s administrative assistant, saying if she were a man issues wouldn’t have risen.
Becker also said in the statement “none of the officers making the complaints has been impacted in terms of pay/rank/position - including Captain Gutman. They continue to enjoy employment and full benefit of union representation and the support of the organization.”
Township records show they processed a 3.3% raise for Gutman on Sept. 24 with a July effective date the same as the other merit raises, bringing his annual salary to $112, 203.40.
September is the same month Hensley and Gutman both filed complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Filing a formal complaint with the EEOC is a prerequisite for filing a federal job discrimination lawsuit against an employer.
Hensley wrote in his EEOC complaint he was forced out of the department, and Gutman said he was put on a job performance improvement plan.
The captains have they were with the department for more than 20 years and had positive job reviews until they began to raise concerns, initially about the chief’s administrative assistant and then the chief.
In 2005, Gutman was hailed as a hero along with fellow officer Joe Buschelman for running into a burning condo and rescuing a 74-year-old woman who was already unconscious from the billowing black smoke.
An attorney for both captains, Elizabeth Tuck, declined comment on Gutman’s resignation.
Tuck told FOX19 NOW last year they believe the township and its officials broke the law, and now the federal government is investigating.
Tuck has said the trustees’ statement about the captains is “categorically false and do a disservice to all of the men and women of the West Chester Police Department.”
“Rather than address the grave and very real problems plaguing the department from the top, the trustees have instead chosen to scapegoat the very people who were courageous enough to expose these problems,” she has said.
Herzog has denied the captains’ allegations, saying 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.
When FOX19 NOW contacted West Chester Township and the police chief for comment earlier this year about the EEOC complaints, a township spokeswoman said in an emailed statement:
“These claims reflect matters already investigated by a third-party independent investigation and determined to be unfounded. Employee improvement plans are in place for Capt. Gutman and Chief Herzog. Jamie Hensley resigned before the investigation was complete.”
The police chief said: “Despite the pressures of the past few months, the Command Staff and I have continued to lead the Police Department with excellence. The service the West Chester Police Department provides to the community has never wavered. Since the conclusion of the third party investigation, the Command Staff and I have been working to heal the department and our own working relationships. We are committed to being better leaders for the department and the community. We stand strong for the men and women of the department, so they can continue serving with the integrity and professionalism West Chester expects."
FOX19 NOW had to use the assistance of an attorney last fall before the township complied our public records request for copies of all of the audio recordings the outside attorney made as he investigated the captains’ complaints about the chief.
There were no recordings of the investigator’s interview (s) with the chief despite Duckett saying on other recordings the chief would be taped.
Given that, when we double checked with the township to make sure we had all the recordings, Wilson responded in an email: “West Chester has provided you with everything. There are no further recordings to provide.”
Neither captain has been replaced yet.
West Chester Police currently has 84 total sworn and 10 civilians (63 Officers, 12 sergeants, six lieutenants, one captain, one assistant chief and one chief).
Gutman’s retirement isn’t technically effective until Saturday, she said, so that count still includes him, according to Wilson.
Full staffing is 90 sworn and 11 civilians (68 Officers, 12 sergeants, six lieutenants, two captains, one assistant chief and one chief), she said.
“The police department is always actively involved in recruitment of officers and a competitive hiring process for the two captain vacancies will be launched. This process will take as long as necessary to find the best, most qualified candidates for our agency and the community,” she said. “Just five years ago, we were down to 78 officers. So, this is not an unprecedented situation, but challenging nonetheless.
“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.”