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More complaints of inappropriate behavior lodged against West Chester police chief

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, pictured here.
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, pictured here.

As more police personnel have lodged complaints against West Chester Twp. Police Chief Joel Herzog of inappropriate behavior, one trustee said the department’s trust is “broken” but Herzog can fix it.

The township released four more complaints Thursday by police officers about Herzog’s alleged inappropriate behavior. Captains Jamie Hensley and Joseph Gutman first accused the chief of making sexist and racial remarks, favoritism and retaliation, complaints that triggered a third-party investigation.

That investigation determined Herzog did act inappropriately on some occasions but recommended a performance improvement plan instead of discipline. The newest complaints were not contained in that investigation.

“One of the most important things that you foster in your police department is trust, and that trust is broken,” Trustee Mark Welch told the Journal-News. “They’ve got some work to do. I think Joel is the man to get it done. Is Joel perfect? No. But he’s a good, decent, and I think well-thought-of police chief, and you know what? He’ll make it happen.”

Hensley resigned late last month, and the four officers said in letters to the human resources department they fear retribution, but one officer said they will “no longer be silenced.”

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

Officer Michael Lopez recounted an incident with Herzog when he was about to give him recognition in front of eight to 10 fellow officers.

“He announces ‘Is this for the white Mike or the brown Mike? Oh, this is for the brown Mike’ and gives me the letter,” Lopez wrote. “Everyone in the room looked at me, probably in shock of what was just said by our leader.

“I was humiliated, but I knew I had to let it go for fear of retaliation. Since we have been under his command, everyone has learned how Chief Herzog operates, and if anyone were to come against him for any reason our job would be in jeopardy.”

He said Herzog recently apologized to him for the comment, but he was surprised he was not interviewed for the investigation into the captains’ comments, because this incident was included.

Officer Charles Hawkins recounted an incident last year in which he was discussing a recent genealogy report he received that showed some of his ancestors are from Puerto Rico and that he therefore also has African American descendants. He claimed Herzog entered the break room and made an inappropriate comment.

“The chief replied with ‘That’s cool, does that mean I get to count you as two minorities now,’” Hawkins wrote. “This statement resonated with me, for one, it was very inappropriate, racially insensitive, and outright unbecoming of a police chief. I looked at the other officers who could tell that I was shocked by the chief’s statement, and in turn they were as well.”

Officer Raymond Jones is the only Black officer on the police force and wrote he “felt highly offended, personally attacked, and disrespected” when Herzog told him to get his hair cut because is was looking “ragged.”

Officer Christopher Whitton said some of Herzog’s jokes and comments are not professional, and he also addressed the mood at the department.

“It’s a shame that officers working the street have to be worried about the COVID pandemic, the anti-police sentiment, and the thought of not making it home to our families is as 4 real as ever,” he wrote. “Now officers including me, have to worry about the internal issues going on, or retribution for bringing matters forward, which should be the last thing on our minds.”

Township Administrator Larry Burks said the township is investigating the latest allegations and “comments and actions that are sexist or racist, or discriminatory in any way are not tolerated by this organization.”

The township hired Douglas Duckett, a private attorney, to conduct an independent investigation into the captains’ complaints. He has performed similar investigations for other departments. He is also the former Butler County Human Resources director.

Hensley and Gutman hired attorney Elizabeth Tuck, and she filed their complaint with the township in February. She said the township should have reported the incidents to the Ohio Attorney General rather than “have engaged a hired gun at taxpayer expense.” She said the latest complaints bolster her clients’ claims and the township should do something to “protect” its employees from retribution.

“These new allegations corroborate my clients’ concerns and further indicate a troubling pattern of behavior by the chief,” she said. “If there was any doubt as to who has been untruthful in this process, there should be none now.”

Welch said the township took the advice of legal counsel when they hired Duckett.

“He is highly respected, well thought of and he came by a recommendation from Frost Brown Todd,” Welch said. “In order that Frost Brown Todd didn’t have any conflict of interest or bias. The primary reason for hiring an independent person is, no bias, I’m just here to get to the facts, the facts will lead to the truth.”