West Chester to hire 2 new police captains in July

A year after six members of the West Chester Police Department filed complaints about their...
A year after six members of the West Chester Police Department filed complaints about their chief with the township, four are gone. That includes two captains whose jobs will be filled this summer.
Published: Jun. 4, 2021 at 10:04 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 4, 2021 at 10:06 PM EDT
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WEST CHESTER TOWNSHIP, Ohio (WXIX) - A year after six veteran members of the West Chester Police Department filed complaints about their chief with the township, four of them have left.

That includes two captains who alleged in a federal lawsuit filed Thursday they were retaliated against, defamed and forced to resign.

In all, a township spokeswoman says 10 of the 90 sworn members of the department (11% of its workforce) have quit or retired since June 2020, for a variety of reasons.

The new captains are expected to be named in July.

The position pays $110,000 to $118,000 annually, according to spokeswoman Barb Wilson.

The six finalists, from 18 total applicants, are being narrowed to two.

There were no internal candidates, Wilson confirmed.

The finalists are:

  • Paul Broxterman: Captain with the Cincinnati Police Department, overseeing District 3. He also is deputy SWAT commander
  • Bruce Hoffbauer: Retired lieutenant at Cincinnati Police Department. He ran for Hamilton County sheriff and lost last fall to Charmaine McGuffey.
  • Mark Schoonover: Former chief deputy with the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office
  • Keith Schoonover, Lieutenant with the Sharonville Police Department
  • Mike Martinsen: Former patrol commander at the Hamilton Police Department, narcotics agent with DART, Northeast Hamilton County Drug Task Force ·
  • Seth Hagaman: Senior special agent with the Ohio Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI); Southwestern Ohio Violent Crime Task Force, deputy director; former West Chester police officer (1998 to 1999 and again 2011 to 2013).

The new captains will come to a department rocked over the past year by allegations between Chief Joel Herzog and his two hand-picked captains who rose through the ranks with him.

Captains Jamie Hensley and Joe Gutman filed written complaints with the township about Herzog, raising sexual harassment concerns about his administrative assistant and contending the chief made sexist and racist statements.

The captains also alleged retaliation from the chief after they raised concerns about his administrative assistant.

The township trustees directed their attorney to hire another attorney, Doug Duckett, to conduct what the township and its trustees have said was an outside, third-party investigation.

Hensley quit June 23, 2020, before the lawyer issued his findings in a written report.

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.

The chief “needs to show significantly more care to be appropriate and professional in his conversations with subordinates and in the presence of members of the public,” reads the 54-page report.

“He must particularly avoid any comment, including joking ones, based on a person’s race, sex, religion, national origin or ancestry, age, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity - that is the law and West Chester Township policy,” the report states.

The report also criticized the captains’ treatment of the chief’s administrative assistant and concluded “There were clear grounds to bring several charges of dishonesty against” Hensley.

Hensley’s “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 wrote.

Before Duckett’s report was issued, however, four other veteran members of the police department, a lieutenant and three officers, came forward with written complaints of their own to the township about the chief.

They accused Herzog of racism, sexism and telling officers not to arrest other law enforcement officials suspected of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.

Those complaints were investigated in-house, by township administration and human resources, township officials have said.

The local chapter of the NAACP and the Council on American-Islamic Relations Ohio called for federal authorities to investigate all complaints.

In July, both Herzog and Gutman were put on performance improvement plans and told they needed to work professionally together.

Trustee Mark Welch told FOX19 NOW last summer Herzog had apologized to the township trustees in a closed-door meeting, agreed to go on a performance improvement plan and was “community-minded and always wants to do the right thing.”

West Chester Township trustees reiterated their support for Herzog in a statement last summer that said investigations were over into all of the complaints from officers about the chief and there is no corruption, retaliation or “underlying issue of racism or sexism affecting our organization.”

In the fall, Gutman and Hensley filed separate complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Hensley said he was forced to quit the police department and Gutman said he was put on a discipline plan.

Gutman resigned in December, effective in January.

In his resignation letter, he accused the administration of dismissing legitimate complaints he and other officers made, alleging “the retaliation has made the working environment intolerable.”

“Our complaints were essentially ignored and in some cases, the blame was placed on the whistleblowers, including me,” Gutman wrote Dec. 31. “For that reason, retiring is the safest and healthiest option for myself and my family.”

At the time Gutman quit, the 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.”

When we recently reached out to the township in light of the other eight officers leaving over the past year, Spokeswoman Wilson responded:

“We can’t really say why these officers chose to leave. They were excellent officers who served the community well. Employees (in any line of work) decided to leave their jobs for many reasons and this really isn’t a question we can answer for you.

“Sometimes an employee will express in their resignation letters the reasons they want to cite for leaving, sometimes they just say they are leaving. They might be starting a new career, moving, or taking a job with another agency. They might just want to get out of law enforcement.

“It has been a challenging time in law enforcement as the cultural and societal view of the profession has changed,” she said. “We’re fortunate that our Police Department receives exceptional support from the community, but these officers and their families every day listen to the news and reports that add different challenges to an already difficult job.”

We asked the township if the rate of officers leaving over the past year would be high, low or average compared to previous years.

“We have not been at full complement for several years, 2017 or earlier. The department is approved by the Trustees for a complement of 90 sworn officers,” Wilson responded.

Before June 2020, West Chester had 83 sworn officers, she said. They hired 8 since then, the most recent on May 25.

Today, the department has 85 sworn officers: 1 chief, 1 assistant chief, 6 lieutenants, 13 sergeants and 64 officers, according to Wilson. The most recent promotion was an officer to a sergeant May 11, township records show.

“We don’t really track department departures over time in a way that allows tracking an ‘average’ number of those leaving the department or ‘average’ staffing,” Wilson responded.

“We can say that departures sometimes reflect the tenure of the force, employees hired in the same timeframe become eligible for retirement, etc. at the same time. It used to be that officers would stay beyond their eligibility for retirement, while now they might be inclined to leave as soon as they are eligible, again because of the law enforcement climate nationwide and/or other career opportunities outside law enforcement.

“The loss of institutional knowledge and experience is impactful to the department, but also creates opportunity for new views and innovation. Every organization evolves over time and the Police Department is no different.

“The bigger concern in law enforcement in the future will be finding exceptional candidates to fill vacancies created by those leaving the profession altogether. There seem to be fewer people pursuing careers in law enforcement and fire service overall.”

Wilson said the departures have not impacted police services and abilities and response times to runs.

The chief and assistant chief are assuming the responsibilities of the two captains positions with some tasks assigned to lieutenants, she said.

“It has meant long hours for the chief and assistant chief; and other officers have stepped up to the plate. Staffing a 365-day, 24-hour emergency operation always requires flexibility to accommodate for sick days, vacations, etc. Service to the community does not suffer.”

Herzog did not respond to recent written requests for comment this story, before the lawsuit was filed this week.

We asked what he did with rank and file and within the community over the past year to address any staffing issues/concerns related to the complaints; what accomplishments over the past year is he most proud of and what he hoped to work on in the coming months.

We also didn’t hear back from recent comment requests from the FOP president and all three township trustees.

“The chief remains on a performance improvement plan and is focused on leading his team, serving the community, and ensuring a safe working environment for all,” Wilson wrote in an email to FOX19 NOW.

Two thank you cards to the chief were recently added to his personnel file, according to the township.

One of the cards was written by Gail Webster, founder of an annual observance of Martin Luther King Jr., “Live the Dream: Our Declaration of Unity” program:

“Dear Chief Herzog, Thank you for taking the time to so warmly welcome participants to this year’s virtual Martin Luther King Day program and March. We truly appreciate our presence and support for these activities and your demonstrated leadership in paving the way for racial unity to become a reality in West Chester.”

The other is from Kathy Cook in fund development of the Boys & Girls Club of West Chester/Liberty:

“Joel, On behalf of the Boys and Girls Club of WCL, thank you so very much for our generous support of the GREAT FUTURES GALA. Your leadership and contribution will ensure programs like Torch Club and Power Hour will continue!”

FOX19 NOW contacted several officers who have left the department for comment.

The most recent departure, Michael Lopez on May 21, did not respond.

He filed a complaint about the chief last summer, writing that he was “humiliated” when Herzog referred to him as “brown Mike” during a commendation.

His April 16 resignation letter to Herzog only highlights his appreciation for his time at the department: “I am thankful for all this position has taught me over the past 20 years, and the relationships I’ve established.”

Officer Charles Hawkins, who also complained about the chief, quit in September.

His resignation was effective two days after he submitted it, township records show.

“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, 2020 letter. “I wish all of the officers here the best.”

He wrote in his complaint last year that 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.....”

A third officer, Tony Frey, resigned last summer in a brief email to the chief on July 29. His resignation was effective that day.

He did not file a complaint about the chief but he did speak out after his colleagues did and urged officers to hold a no-confidence vote in Herzog.

Frey told us after he quit last year he had planned to leave the department to focus on his home improvement business.

He declined further comment.

Hawkins told us he has joined Frey full-time in that business.

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 told us in September.

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.”

In April, Officer James Berling left the same day he quit.

Berling, a school resource officer who did not file a complaint about the chief, declined comment.

Another veteran officer who left earlier this year, Doug Zeller, tells FOX19 NOW he felt township leaders were “looking the other way” and the police union failed to act.

Zeller said Herzog is making strides now to try to heal the department “but a lot of good officers have left that department and it’s a shame it came to that.

“I was in my second year of the DROP program when Chief Herzog’s issues broke. After seeing how the township was looking the other way (and) the police union failed to censure the chief with a vote of ‘no confidence’, I made the decision to ride the year out hoping that the township would quietly ask him to step down at the start of the year. When that wasn’t going to happen, I advised them of my resignation.

“It was pretty cut and dry on my part,” said Zeller, a patrolman from November 2000 to January 2021.

‘No well-run business or organization would leave a ‘leader’ in that spot based on his own words. That is what made my decision to leave at that point.”

Zeller did not file a complaint against the chief.

“I could only be supportive of the officers that personally had to deal with this. I was fully on board for the ‘no confidence vote’. I thought that is all we could do at that point. I spoke at that meeting for just that but the vote went the other way. Each officer had to decide for themselves.

“To file a complaint requires a policy violation,” Zeller said. “There was not one I was a party to.”

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