The Emporia Gazette and The Associated Press
Topeka — An independent investigation into complaints of sexual harassment against Kansas Highway Patrol Superintendent Herman Jones found them to be unsubstantiated, the governor’s office said Thursday.
“While my confidence in the men and women who make up our force of troopers has never wavered, there is no question that there were cultural issues and a lack of accountability that go back years,” Gov. Laura Kelly said in a news release. “I believed when I appointed him, that Colonel Jones was the right man for the job and my belief has been reaffirmed. He has my full support.”
Jones graduated with a degree in psychology from Emporia State University and began his law enforcement career as a police officer with the Emporia Police Department. He then served as a state trooper with the Kansas Highway Patrol from 1982 to 1992. He was also an instructor at the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center.
Jones returned to the Kansas Highway Patrol as the director of administration from 2000 to 2011. In April 2012, Jones was appointed to the role of Shawnee County Sheriff. He was elected in November 2012 and re-elected in 2016.
He was named an ESU Distinguished Alumni in 2016.
The governor’s office summarized the findings of an investigation, completed this week, into complaints against Jones alleging sexual harassment in the form of unwanted physical contact and comments, misuse of state aircraft and gender discrimination.
Three Highway Patrol employees alleged Jones greeted employees by slapping their backs, shaking their hands, patting their shoulders, hugging and making awkward comments. The employees did not allege that any of the contact or comments were sexual in nature.
Jones indicated in an interview he did not know the greetings made employees uncomfortable and that he would avoid such contact in the future. The investigation “exonerates” Jones with respect to the sexual harassment complaints, according to the governor’s office.
The investigation into complaints about Jones’ alleged misuse of state aircraft determined his use was appropriate for state business.
The investigation into a complaint against Jones related to gender discrimination found that his actions were not motivated by discrimination but were consistent with various agency policies and priorities.
The governor’s office said the internal investigation by the Department of Administration provided an assessment, rather than judgment about the accusations. An independent investigation was also conducted by the Topeka law firm of Fisher, Patterson, Sayler & Smith.
“Governor Kelly took unprecedented and transparent action by proactively releasing the investigation summaries,” her spokeswoman, Lauren Fitzgerald, said in an email. “In order to protect the identities of KHP staff, and to prevent discouraging other individuals in this administration from raising concerns for any issue, we will not be releasing the full report.”
Kelly also announced leadership changes at Highway Patrol in which two troopers — Majors Scott Harrington and Josh Kellerman — are no longer employed with the agency after an investigation cleared Jones.
In response to a question about how the departures of the two troopers relate to the investigation, Highway Patrol spokesman Andy Dean said in an email that “their performance and leadership was unsatisfactory and did not meet the standards set by their superiors.” He did not elaborate.
Harrington could not be reached for comment. Kellerman sent The Associated Press a statement from the Kansas State Troopers Association that stated the two troopers had supported several female employees who filed complaints about the unwelcome contact from Jones and the hostile work environment at the Highway Patrol’s headquarters.
“With the public outcry for transparency and change in law enforcement, actions like today’s retaliatory terminations, effectively quell any possibility of positive change in the Agency,” according to the written statement. “These Majors had the courage to stand up for these oppressed individuals within the Agency who feared that they would be subject to retaliatory action for coming forward. Given what has happened today, their fear was well founded.”
The association said the decision to fire the two troopers will have a chilling effect on employees’ willingness to come forward with complaints.