West Chester tells police chief, captain to address ‘two years of conflict and dysfunction'

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.

The West Chester Twp. police chief and a captain in the department have been put on notice in performance improvement plans that if they don’t fix the “dysfunctional” police department environment they will be fired.

Police Chief Joel Herzog and Capt. Joe Gutman have received and signed performance improvement plans to address “two years of conflict and dysfunction within the command staff” at the police department, both plans read.

Former Capt. Jamie Hensley resigned June 23 after he and Capt. Joe Gutman filed a formal complaint, via their attorney, against Herzog. They accused him of making sexist and racial remarks, favoritism and retaliation, in their February complaint. The township hired an independent lawyer to investigate the charges, and he found Herzog should not face disciplinary action but some of his actions were not appropriate.

“You have been too loose and occasionally careless in your language at work or with subordinates. As a condition of your continued service as Police Chief, this behavior must change immediately and permanently,” Township Administrator Larry Burks wrote to Herzog.

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Herzog must also foster better communications with his command staff, repair his relationship with Gutman and ensure Gutman adheres to his improvement plan, according to documents.

Burks also said it was a mistake for Herzog to attempt to visit local businessman Jeff Couch, Herzog’s friend, in the Butler County Jail after Couch’s arrest in March 2019. It gave the appearance of impropriety, he said.

Assistant Administrator Lisa Brown created Gutman’s plan. Most of his plan deals with how he must treat the female employee who was at the crux of the original complaints against Herzog. They had claimed this employee acted improperly in the office and to them specifically, and they said Herzog was protecting her.

“Your specific allegations of “misconduct” were found to be baseless and without merit, and your accusations risked being discriminatory in nature because you complained of innocuous conduct that would never been targeted for a male co-worker,” Brown wrote. “You are a senior commander in this organization, and West Chester Township will not incur that risk or have employees treated in any manner not characterized by equality, dignity, and respect.”

Brown wrote that Gutman needs to respect Herzog’s command decisions and follow orders even if he disagrees with them, unless they are contrary to law.

“You, Capt. Gutman, face a fork in your own professional road, and a rather stark one,” Brown wrote. “The only choices are a fundamental change in how you work with your colleagues on the command staff and the clerical support staff or to change your employment, either because you choose to leave or you will be discharged for failure to comply with this performance improvement plan.”

The township is still investigating complaints lodged by four other officers. The captains’ attorney, Elizabeth Tuck, said she can’t comment on the plans because Gutman still works there.

Trustee Board President Ann Becker told the Journal-News she believes the police department will come through this controversy.

“I think Colonel Herzog and Captain Gutman are both professionals and I think working with our administration, our team and with their own professional experience I think they can work through this,” Becker said. “Our police department is very strong and this is something that can be worked through.”

Trustee Mark Welch said he was pleased the plans were detailed and offer a clear path to “healing” the department.

“We’re not asking you to try, this is what’s going to happen,” he said. “It’s a clear choice so to me the individuals have to be completely dedicated to doing these things. The first step in changing is wanting to change.”