West Chester Twp. trustees say matter of police chief’s actions ‘closed'

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.

After a tumultuous two years West Chester Twp. trustees have closed the book on the controversy surrounding Police Chief Joel Herzog and some of his command staff, issuing a statement of support.

Trustee Board President Ann Becker issued a lengthy statement Tuesday evening after an executive session, saying the matter is now closed. The statement acknowledged Herzog’s shortcomings and supported him.

“Chief Herzog has been raked over the coals and publicly shamed for saying things that are inappropriate, but there has been little acknowledgement for all the good he has done,” Becker read. “Police Chief Joel Herzog’s actual actions and willingness to engage all parts of our community exhibit a deep desire to understand, incorporate, and celebrate diversity in our community and West Chester’s law enforcement efforts.”

The statement also admonished captains Jamie Hensley and Joe Gutman for their treatment of Herzog’s administrative assistant, the issue that started two years of issues. They complained about her inappropriate attire at work, her winking, offering to bring back lunch and other infractions. The trustees noted if she were a man these issues would not have arisen.

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“There has also not been much acknowledgement in the media of the captains’ sexist view of women in the workplace and unfair treatment of a female employee. Neither former Captain Hensley nor Captain Gutman have acknowledged error in their treatment of this employee or taken responsibility for the role they played in the command staff dysfunction,” the statement by all three trustees said.

Hensley resigned June 23 after he and 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.

The trustees paid about $50,000 to hire Douglas Duckett, a lawyer who is Butler County’s former human resources director, to investigate the captains’ complaints. The trustees said hiring an impartial, third-party to investigate was imperative and they pay attorneys fees for many different things. Recently four other officers also filed complaints about Herzog, mainly for his inappropriate joking.

The trustees addressed those issues that were internally investigated in the statement as well.

“These comments from the chief were inappropriate, a fact he acknowledges, they did not translate into action by the chief or the officers in the performance of their duties; and there is a performance improvement plan in place to ensure change from Chief Herzog,” Becker read.

Township administrators recently gave both Herzog and Gutman, who remains on duty, performance improvement plans.

The captains’ attorney Elizabeth Tuck said her clients are still weighing their legal options. She said the trustees’ statements are “categorically false and do a disservice to all of the men and women of the West Chester Police Department.”

“Rather than address the grave and very real problems plaguing the department from the top, the trustees have instead chosen to scapegoat the very people who were courageous enough to expose these problems,” she said.

Several outside groups, like the NAACP Hamilton/Fairfield/West Chester and Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ) Cincinnati have issued statements saying Herzog should be fired.

Herzog has been quiet since Duckett’s report was issued at the end of June. He told the Journal-News in an email he was grateful for the trustee’s support.

“The support and confidence of the Board of Trustees and the community makes me determined to be a better police chief and better leader,” he wrote. “I’m committed to making sure our department, in every way, is a reflection of this incredible community and the people who call it home, and I’m humbled by the opportunity to move forward.”