Former West Chester police captains file federal lawsuit against township, chief, trustees
CINCINNATI (WXIX) - Two former captains with West Chester Police Department claim in a federal lawsuit they were retaliated against and defamed after they witnessed inappropriate and discriminatory conduct by the police chief and filed complaints.
Jamie Hensley and Joe Gutman allege they were ultimately forced to resign. Hensley began working for West Chester police in 1999, and Gutman joined the agency in 1995.
Their lawsuit names West Chester Township and West Chester Township Police Department.
It also lists in their official and individual capacity Township Administrator Larry Burks; Trustees Ann Becker, Mark Welch and Lee Wong and Police Chief Joel Herzog.
Douglas Duckett, a private attorney who conducted an outside investigation for the township, is named in his individual capacity.
“The Captains had no alternative left but to sue,” said their attorney, Elizabeth Tuck.
“The Township could have just addressed the chief of police’s bigoted comments about employees and citizens. But the the Township backed the Chief and went to war against my clients with a smear campaign disguised as an investigation. They forced them to quit. They destroyed long and impeccable careers with lies. The people who did that are accountable for their actions, and my clients have to clear their names. The Captains have faith in our system of justice to do that.”
West Chester Township doesn’t comment on pending litigation, a township spokeswoman told us.
“As I have consistently stated, my work on this investigation is completed, and particularly given that this matter is now the subject of litigation, I will not be discussing it further,” Duckett responded.
Both captains received many commendations during their tenures, including rescuing a citizen from a burning building and helping to resolve an armed child hostage incident, according to their lawsuit. They had impeccable job reviews until they raised their concerns.
Last year, the captains filed complaints with the township about Herzog, accusing him of retaliation, failure to address sexual harassment, sexism, racism and mishandling of public records, township records show.
The captains also raised concerns about the behavior of the chief’s administrative assistant.
Herzog has denied the captains’ allegations, telling FOX19 NOW last year he believed his comments were taken out of context and he had faith the community knew him better than that.
He also said he was working to be a better leader.
Duckett, who reviewed the captains complaints and interviewed them and the chief, concluded “there is no basis” for Herzog to face disciplinary action over the allegations. But he did find Herzog made “careless” and inappropriate comments about race, religion and sexual orientation.
The suit says the township released Duckett’s investigation report into the captains complaints to the media while other members of the police department were still coming forward to corroborate the captains’ allegations.
Those four additional written complaints that were filed by the other members of the department were not investigated by the township “until after they released the incomplete and defamatory report to the press,” the lawsuit reads.
The additional complaints, filed by a lieutenant and officers, accused Herzog of alleged misconduct ranging from racism and sexism to telling officers not to arrest other law enforcement officials suspected of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, township records show.
Township administration and its HR department investigated the other four complaints about the chief.
Township officials released a police internal investigation report on Hensley shortly after Duckett issued his findings.
The report 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 January 2020.
Hensley’s lawsuit says the township’s law director told his attorney he would be fired for dishonesty and lose his pension so he quit June 23, 2020, to preserve his pension.
Becker announced last summer 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.
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.
Gutman says in the lawsuit his performance plan required him to bring concerns to the chief even if those involved the chief.
Gutman quit in late December 2020 “with the ongoing retaliation and hostility beginning to impact his health,” according to the lawsuit.
He also “feared for his safety were he to encounter a life-threatening situation in the line of duty due to the extreme hostility directed at him in the department,” the complaint reads. “As a result, he was forced to resign from WCPD on January 16, 2021 after over 24 years of service to West Chester Township.”
The lawsuit accuses the defendants of engaging “in a pattern and practice of retaliating against members of the police department who speak out against unlawful behavior by ...Herzog. Defendants have tolerated blatant sexism, disrespect, and lies from multiple Township and WCPD employees but did not subject them to a hostile work environment, ruin their careers, or force them to resign.
“Defendants continue to engage in a pattern and practice of silencing and retaliating against members of the West Chester Police Department who speak out against unlawful behavior by Defendant Herzog.”
The lawsuit alleges civil liability for criminal acts against Duckett, Burks and Herzog, contending the three men violated a state law prohibiting anyone from retaliating against a public servant for discharging his or her duties.
The complaint also claims they violated a law prohibiting anyone from using a materially false writing for a malicious person or in bad faith to influence, intimidate or hinder a public servant.
In addition, the suit says the chief violated the law prohibiting any public servant from using his or her office to deprive any person of a constitutional right.
Hensley and Gutman request a jury trial and judgement declaring the defendants retaliation against them violated their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
They also want their pensions adjusted to compensate for the alleged discrimination and retaliation, all lost pay and benefits and front pay, damages, attorney fees, and compensation for adverse tax consequences of receiving a lump sum award rather than their compensation and benefits over several years.
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