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‘Little brown babies’: West Chester investigates another complaint about police chief

West Chester Township officials are investigating another complaint alleging their police chief...
West Chester Township officials are investigating another complaint alleging their police chief made a racially insensitive remark to an employee.(Provided by West Chester Township)
Published: Oct. 14, 2021 at 10:30 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 14, 2021 at 10:53 PM EDT
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BUTLER COUNTY, Ohio (WXIX) - West Chester Township is investigating another complaint that alleges the police chief made a racially inappropriate remark, township records show.

This comes amid a federal lawsuit filed against the township, Police Chief Joel Herzog and others by two now former captains who allege the chief has a pattern of a pattern of racism, sexism and other misconduct. A lieutenant and three officers also filed complaints involving similar allegations with the township last year.

Jeanni Quinn, a former records supervisor at West Chester Police Department who is married to one of the lieutenants, alleged in an email this week to all three township trustees that Herzog made an offensive remark to her earlier this year about the race of his expectant grandchild.

“On May 10th I stopped in to congratulate the Chief because I saw that his son was expecting his child. He said and I quote exactly ‘We’ll have little brown babies running around’ because the mother is Hispanic,” Quinn’s email states.

“My grandchild is bi-racial and I am utterly disgusted that this behavior has continued to be supported over and over by the trustees. I worked 19 years for this department and have tried to stay out of the drama; I can’t anymore. This is a blatant slap in the face to everyone.”

She alleges the chief also planned to promote a sergeant to lieutenant as a “quid pro quo” for “covering for him with the press” earlier this year “by stating in a newspaper interview that police morale is high.”

Quinn said she planned to come forward with her concerns and complaints about the chief sooner but felt it would be useless after seeing how the captains’ complaints were essentially ignored.

“Why would I or anyone else come forward when it was made so clear that no one would listen? I have no reason to come forward now other then to see this continued behavior come to a stop,” her email to the trustees states.

She said she is sharing her complaint with FOX19 NOW to insure transparency “because this administration can’t be trusted.”

Quinn said she retired from her job last month, a year earlier than she originally planned due to stress at work.

She said she felt the township tried to make improvements after issues with the chief came to light, but some issues persist.

“I felt tremendous relief after sending the email. Everything that has occurred at the department was just happening over and over and over again. Seeing this promotion occur, which has never happened like this in the history of the department, was just too much.

“Nothing is changing. Watching what Captain Hensley and Captain Gutman went through, it’s not worth it to stay quiet. if he feels you are in (the chief’s) little trusted circle, he can say and do anything he wants, in my opinion.”

West Chester Township officials are investigating a former employee's complaints about the...
West Chester Township officials are investigating a former employee's complaints about the police chief.(West Chester Township Twitter account)

The day after Quinn sent the email to the trustees, the sergeant’s promotion was pulled from the agenda for the township’s meeting Tuesday night.

It was removed “pending further investigation,” a township spokeswoman, Barb Wilson, wrote in an email to FOX19 NOW.

“The Township will investigate further the allegations made and issues raised in the letter from former Township employee Ms. Quinn. The Township takes seriously its role as an employer representing an exceptional community; and investigates all complaints brought forward.

“Until we have an opportunity to more fully investigate the complaints and concerns expressed by Ms. Quinn, it’s really not appropriate to comment on them.”

We reached out to the chief for this story but did not hear back.

The three trustees did not respond to requests for comment.

One trustee, Lee Wong, responded in writing to Quinn after she sent him her complaint: “Noted. Thx Jeanni,” according to a copy she provided FOX19 NOW.

“There will be no comment from Chief Herzog,” Wilson wrote in an email to FOX19 NOW when we followed up on our requests to speak with him. “The Township is investigating the complaint as indicated previously and comment regarding (it) would not be appropriate.”

Chief Herzoz 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.

We also sought comment from the sergeant whose promotion was delayed and the assistant police chief, who also is criticized in Quinn’s email.

Wilson responded: “Because the Township is investigating the complaints brought forward, it is really not appropriate at this time for any staff member to comment further.”

Quinn said her husband is scheduled for surgery later this month and has notified the department he will be off two weeks. Once he returns, he must be on light or desk duty for four weeks. He was injured on duty years ago and this is a second surgery to repair an issue in his shoulder, she said.

She said her husband has requested a one-year extension on his contract, which expires next year. She and her husband were concerned that the sergeant’s promotion to lieutenant meant he would take her husband’s position eventually, and the township would turn down his request for a contract extension.

She said she did not file the complaint now to try to make sure he gets the extension.

“Mike and I are in a position where we are OK if he goes,” Quinn responded. “This has everything to do with doing the right thing. The chief has been allowed to do whatever he wants without significant consequences, in my opinion.”

An outside attorney concluded in 2020 that Herzog needed to take steps to be “more appropriate and professional.”

The outside review included admissions by Herzog that he called Middle Easterners “terrorists,” Indians “dots” and referred to a Latino officer as “brown Mike,” the report states.

The investigation also determined allegations from the captains and their attorney that Herzog called Black people who interacted with police “Number 2s” and “at times commented on the attractiveness of women to subordinates.”

But, attorney Doug Duckett wrote in his report, the chief’s actions didn’t warrant formal discipline.

Duckett said he advised Herzog against using such “lingo,” but he stopped short of urging a reprimand - even while noting such language violated both township policy and anti-discrimination law.

“(Herzog) 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,” Duckett wrote in his report.

Township officials have repeatedly said the most serious or egregious allegations against the chief were determined to be unfounded.

Chief Herzog remains on a job performance plan that he was put on more than a year ago, a township spokeswoman said.

It orders the chief to stop making any comments, including jokes or humor, that could be interpreted as sexist, racist or otherwise discriminatory.

While Chief Herzog never “discriminated on such a basis,” such comments are inappropriate and any failure to meet their expectations could result in immediate discharge.

“You are the police chief,” the plan reads. “You are never free to ‘let your hair down’ around people who work with you or for you.”

His latest performance appraisal, dated April 26, 2021, rated him overall as “Meets Standards.”

Township Administrator Larry Burks wrote that the police department “is efficient and effective. Very few problems with overall effectiveness. Herzog has a good team.”

And:

“All comments from Herzog will be scrutinized and he should be diligent about his professionalism and avoid any casual remarks at all times at work.”

“Herzog has improved his willingness to be confronted about decision making and behavior in the department and from the community he serves. Although the loss of 2 Captains was not ideal, I believe this will be the best for the department and the organization in the long run.”

Burks noted the chief’s performance improvement plan remains in place and “some improvement is still needed when Herzog feels comfortable in his surroundings. Overall Herzog is a good communicator, however at times he may feel like ‘one of the guys’ but must realize he is Chief at all times.”

He has taken the time to undergo leadership training even though it was not required and has shown “a great interest in learning about himself, his department and how he can serve his community the best that he can,” Burks wrote. “Herzog has made himself available to groups to discuss community efforts related to peace, law enforcement and equality. Through this engagement, continual learning about himself and his community is realized.”

Burks wrote that the administration supports the chief’s goals and plans for the next year: “Re-unify the department after the 2020 division. Supervision and Union leadership brought in for more vision sharing opportunities in order to work more cohesively in the future. Integrate and develop the new captains for smooth operations within the department. Continue the hiring process to get back to 90 sworn officers.”

Under the employee comments section of his performance appraisal, the chief says: “I appreciate the opportunity to grow in my position. This last year has been a tremendous opportunity for self-refection and learning. I enjoy working as a valued team member within the Township and look forward to the years ahead. I will be fully committed in working with the Union to unify the department to ensure we are a premier law enforcement organization.”

The township hired two new captains over the summer and filled multiple officer openings in the department over the past year after several left. Three more officers have been hired and start on Nov. 1.

FOX19 NOW reached out to the president of the union that represents West Chester police, Officer Dan Dean.

He emailed us the following statement:

“The past two years have been challenging for our members, but we have been moving in a positive direction. The members of our lodge are optimistic about Captain Hoffbauer and Captain Hagaman, the hiring of new officers, and a more efficient reporting system.

“I have been out of town for several weeks and do not have all of the information on the allegation made by Ms. Quinn at this time. It would not be appropriate to comment on the allegation without all the facts.

“Regardless of what has transpired among our administration, the pandemic and staffing challenges in law enforcement, our members have and will continue to serve our community with honor and pride.”

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