WEST CHESTER, Ohio — West Chester Township’s attorney has hired a third-party investigator to look into allegations that police Chief Joel Herzog was racist, sexist and retaliated at a pair of subordinates who voiced concerns about his behavior.
The allegations come from Capt. Joe Gutman and former Capt. Jamie Hensley, both of whom held third-in-command positions at the department when they complained about Herzog's leadership. Hensley resigned from his position on June 23.
Documents provided by West Chester Township include audio recordings from a January human resources meeting with Herzog and Hensley, who had claimed that Herzog gave him negative performance reviews as a result of past disagreements rather than his on-the-job performance. Among the points of contention: Facebook posts made by Hensley's wife, Hensley's decision to attend an event honoring Black leaders in the Cincinnati community, and a 2018 incident in which Hensley complained he felt uncomfortable around a female subordinate who wore revealing clothing.
Hensley would later write that the chief quizzed him about the contents of his wife's posts, criticized his presence at the "Men of Honor" event and falsely accused him of failing to work with the female coworker after voicing his complaint.
“I feel under-appreciated. I feel undervalued,” Hensley said in the HR meeting. “I feel like I'm not trusted to do my job. I feel like I had more authority and decision-making power as a sergeant than I do now. But this all started happening after I brought forward my initial concerns, that of which I don’t have any problem anymore I haven’t seen inappropriate attire.”
Documents indicate Hensley and Gutman told the town manager in 2019 that an anonymous caller claimed to have a photo of Herzog in a blackface costume.
Documents also indicate the chief ignored concerns that the female uniform chart said things like “baby got back.” Hensley and Gutman claimed the chief would retaliate against their complaints by doing things like taking away their duties.
Attorney Kelly Myers is not representing anyone in this case but does specialize in employment law. She said taking away an employee's duties can be enough to prove retaliation in court.
“If an employer changes a person’s job duties, puts them on the desk or takes away job duties or demotes them or basically ices them...those are all ways an employee can be retaliated against for raising their hand,” Myers said.
West Chester Township on Friday released a statement on investigation. In the statement, the township said the complaints were taken seriously and “the most egregious allegations against Chief Herzog were determined to be unfounded.” The statement also said the investigation is not yet complete and that the West Chester Board of Trustees will “continue to work toward a resolution with the best interest of the community in mind."
“All officers involved have long, exemplary careers with the West Chester Police Department,” said Board of Trustees chairwoman Ann Becker. “This is not a situation the Board of Trustees takes lightly and possible outcomes are weighed with a heavy heart for the exceptional careers of these individuals who each have served this community with great commitment.”
West Chester Township also said in the statement that the allegations against Chief Herzog were not related to the handling of an investigation or “efforts directly applicable to specific law enforcement activities in the community.” The statement also said allegations were regarding suspected favoritism, inappropriate comments and implied retaliation for making complaints within the police department.
WCPO reached out to Herzog Friday with a list of questions about the allegations and the investigation. Here is his full statement below:
WCPO: What is your response to the allegations?
Herzog: This is a sensitive personnel matter that affects me, the command staff team and our department overall. I can’t speak to specifics, but want the community to know that an outside investigator reviewed the allegations and determined the worst of these complaints to be untrue. I have faith in the community and I think they know me to be better than this. I am accountable to the Board of Trustees and the Township Administrator. I have committed to them that I will work to heal my team, be a better leader and take advantage of opportunities to continue building strong relationships in the police department in order to provide the best service to our community.
With regard to the allegations made against me and the situation in general, I am disappointed. These complaints live on, even if unfounded, and they become a part of my legacy as police chief here. I love this community and have worked really hard to be a positive representative of the community and the police department. I am disappointed that this now casts a shadow over the efforts we’ve made.
WCPO: What is your plan to move forward?
Herzog: I am accountable to the Board of Trustees and the Township Administrator. I have committed to them that I will work to heal my team, be a better leader and take advantage of opportunities to continue building strong relationships in the police department in order to provide the best service to our community. It will take some time, but I’m determined to help my team move forward.
WCPO: Do you have concern that the public complaints could now affect your ability to lead?
Herzog: Again, I have faith in the community and I think they know me. I understand it will take some time and work, but I’m determined to move forward in a positive way.
WCPO: How can you substantiate that the claims are false? Regardless of the validity of the allegations, what do you tell the men and women who work under you and trust you as a leader who now hear these accusations?
Herzog: That’s difficult and I’ll have to look to the release of the final investigation report to clearly show the findings of the investigator. In the meantime, I tell the men and women who work for me that I am here for them, that I’m open to answering their questions if I can, and that I’m committed to regaining any confidence that may have been lost as a result of these allegations.
The attorney for Hensley and Gutman, Elizabeth Tuck, sent a letter to the Township in February demanding that it take action for the chief's failure to remedy sexual harassment, fraternization, racism, sexism and manipulation of public record.
WCPO also reached out Friday for a statement from Tuck. Here is her full response below:
WCPO: How are your clients feeling now that this is so public?
Tuck: Captain Gutman cannot make any comment at this time. He fears for his job.
Captain Hensley tried for two years to bring his concerns up internally. It only came to this because of how those internal complaints got handled, or in some cases not handled at all. He is very grateful for the overwhelming support he has received since his resignation. People in the department and the community who know him and know his character of honesty, integrity and caring believe him. But he is of course worried about how the attention might impact his family, especially his children, just like anyone would be.
WCPO: What are your concerns for their future? How does the fear of retaliation in any case prevent others from blowing the whistle elsewhere?
Tuck: That’s Captain Hensley’s’ major concern now: the excellent men and women he led and worked beside for over 20 years. Coming forward was a really agonizing and, in my opinion, courageous decision. They knew they were putting their careers and livelihoods on the line and they did it anyway because it was the right thing to do for West Chester and their department. I hope that the Township decides to do the right thing by them in return. How they treat my clients going forward will send a clear message about what kind of police they want in West Chester: do they want good cops to speak out without having their careers ruined or do they want them to keep quiet when they see that something wrong is going on? The officers will take that message to heart, whatever it is.
WCPO: You’ve been doing this type of work for a long time. What usually happens to people in these cases?
Tuck: Every situation is unique. My approach is to give the employer the chance to do the right thing, and prepare my client for what’s next if they don’t.
WCPO: What happens next in the process for this case? What could the end results be in this case?
Tuck: That’s up to the Township now. I was told they know everything my clients told the investigator. We will see.
Myers said cases like this that involve whistle blower allegations can set a tone for police departments everywhere.
“We want cops to be able to report bad actions that they witness and be protected from that and come forward,” she said. “In order to have true police reform, you’ve got to have, internally, police officers who can come forward, testify, say, ‘Hey, I witnessed this,’ and not be the ones that get fired.”