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West Chester police chief won’t face discipline after investigation; lawyer criticizes process

West Chester Police Chief Joel Herzog has been accused of creating a hostile work environment by two of his command staff, Capt. Jamie Hensley and Capt. Joe Gutman. From left, West Chester Police Capt. Jamie Hensley, Police Chief Joel Herzog, and Capt. Joe Gutman. CONTRIBUTED
West Chester Police Chief Joel Herzog has been accused of creating a hostile work environment by two of his command staff, Capt. Jamie Hensley and Capt. Joe Gutman. From left, West Chester Police Capt. Jamie Hensley, Police Chief Joel Herzog, and Capt. Joe Gutman. CONTRIBUTED

A third-party investigation of allegations against West Chester Twp. Police Chief Joel Herzog made by the department’s two captains, one of whom resigned last month, was completed with no disciplinary action.

Documents show that some of the accusations involve a female employee who was hired by the department in March 2018. Captain Jamie Hensley wrote a 22-page letter to township Administrator Larry Burks saying that Herzog “made inappropriate sexual comments” about the employee but also gave her and some other employees preferential treatment.

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He also accused Herzog of making “racially insensitive” comments by referring to his doctor as “the terrorist” because he is of Middle Eastern or Indian descent.

When he raised these and other issues, his performance evaluation suffered, and he feared Herzog was trying to fire him to stop him from revealing things he knows, he wrote.

“He wants to be able to laugh and joke, flirt and say inappropriate things with females in the workplace and because Captain (Joseph) Gutman and I will not condone nor join in such behavior, we are being mistreated and retaliated against,” Hensley wrote. He resigned June 23.

Douglas Duckett, a private attorney hired by the trustees to review the complaints, wrote in the report dated June 30 that for “Chief Herzog and for Assistant Chief Rebholz, there is no basis for any disciplinary action.”

However, Duckett did find fault in some of Herzog’s actions after the arrest of RV business owner Jeff Couch for assaulting his wife and took him to task on comments and conversations calling for change.

“ As detailed in this report, Capt. Herzog needs show significantly more care to be professional and appropriate in his conversations with subordinates and in the presence of members of the public. 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. ,” Duckett said.

A performance improvement plan should be created for Herzog, and non-improvement in identified areas could lead him to be fired, the report said.

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In the report, Duckett said Herzog’s efforts to visit Couch, his longtime friend, in the Butler County Jail after his arrest in March “was a significant error in judgment.” Herzog was told he couldn’t visit Couch by Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones.

“Yes, Jeff Couch is his longtime friend. But Joel Herzog is the Police Chief for the arresting department, and in that situation, the sensitivities inherent in his role as police chief must take precedence. When it comes to anyone whom his department is investigating or has arrested, Joel Herzog can never put down the mantle of being the police chief; in that situation, he can never be ‘just a friend.’ In my interview, I was at first not confident that the Chief fully understood that but by the end of a very tough discussion on this point, he understood.”

Duckett concluded one of the captains who filed allegations against Herzog was less than truthful and the subject of an internal investigation due to alleged dishonesty during interviews with his superiors before the outside investigation.

“There were clear grounds to bring several charges of dishonesty against Capt. Hensley, both for statements in the meetings of January 28 and 29 and in my interview. His 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 in his report.

Duckett said the remaining command staff, which includes Gutman , must communicate more effectively to heal from a “toxic workplace environment.”

“That means that Col. Herzog and Lt. Col. Rebholz cannot avoid Capt. Gutman to avoid the negativity. I also recommend that the performance improvement plans for Chief Herzog spell out that expectation, including holding regular command staff meetings as well as structured communication sessions involving Assistant Township Administrator Lisa Brown,” Duckett wrote.

READ MORE: West Chester Police Chief faces allegations from 2 captains, 1 resigns

Attorney Elizabeth Tuck, who represents Hensley and Gutman, responded, saying that rather “ than address or report the misconduct to the Ohio Attorney General or another independent body, the Township engaged a hired gun at taxpayer expense to defend itself and Chief of Police Joel Herzog against the Captains’ very real claims of unlawful conduct.”

She said the captains risked their careers when they came forward to expose racism, sexism and retaliation at the “highest level”of the police department.

“The investigation report … is malicious, offensive, and defamatory. Moreover, it was rushed to be released while other members of the department have been and are still coming forward to corroborate the captains’ concerns, describe a ‘culture of retaliation’ in the department, and provide more examples of wrongdoing,” Tuck said. “Instead of actually investigating my clients’ concerns about Chief Herzog’s racist, sexist, and other misconduct, the township turned the investigation on the captains to discredit them publicly and destroy their impeccable reputations.

She added that “ the report blatantly misquotes my clients’ interviews, ignores most of what the concerns and incidents they described, and is irresponsible with the truth and facts. The report even defames clients’ families, an act the public should find abhorrent.”

Tuck said her client are considering “legal options at this time to defend themselves against the character assassination the Trustees commissioned.”

A request has been made for any additional complaints made against Herzog in the past two weeks, and as of Wednesday, no response from the township has been received.

Barb Wilson, township spokeswoman, responded when Herzog was asked for comment about the report.

“There will be no further comment from staff regarding the investigation at this time,” Wilson said. “Township Administrator Larry Burks will continue to work with the West Chester Board of Trustees in weighing the outcomes and conclusions of this report, along with any new concerns brought forward, to determine next steps.”

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