NEW HANOVER — A year-long inquiry by the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office into allegations of racism in the township police department has come to an end with an agreement between the office and the township.
The township "has committed to improving its standards for hiring police leadership and police behavior," according to a press release issued Tuesday by the Pottstown chapter of the NAACP, which was active in the effort.
Additionally, "the police department will receive additional training, including anti-bias and anti-harassment training. The township also has agreed to revise its Rules of Conduct for police. One specific change calls for the police chief 'to personally model the non-biased, culturally inclusive conduct expected of all members…,'" the release said.
Township Manager Jamie Gwynn said Tuesday afternoon the township does not have a comment on the agreement "at this time."
The announcement comes 14 months after reports first arose of racist comments made by Police Chief Kevin McKeon and Sgt. William Moyer.
Two former officers, Keith Youse and Dennis Psota, recounted alleged instances of racist comments and harassment from the department's two senior officers.
Additionally, Youse whose wife is Asian, said on his last day on the job, an eggroll was placed amid the box of his possessions that was being carried to his car.
In October 2019, one month after the publication of the articles, the Pottstown Chapter of the NAACP also got involved offering to help the township with its investigation.
In December 2019, the NAACP submitted its report to the state Attorney General’s Civil Rights Enforcement Section, which then launched its own investigation, the NAACP release reported.
In June, New Hanover Township Supervisors' Chairman Charles D. Garner Jr. announced that the probe, led by attorney John Gonzales, had found no evidence to confirm any of the claims.
Despite finding no evidence, Garner said at the time the township "is determined to take all measures within its power to maintain an environment that is free from discrimination of any kind. The township has directed a review of its existing policies and procedures which prohibit discrimination and harassment to ensure that they are up to date."
"In addition, the township will be implementing additional and regular sensitivity and diversity training so that all employees are reminded of what is expected of them in this regard, as well as the consequences for failing to meet those expectations," Garner said. "The township will also provide targeted training for all supervisor employees to ensure that they are clean on the consequences for failing to ensure compliance with the township's policies."
He added that the board will also direct "a full review of police department policies and procedures, including the use of force."
The attorney general’s recommendations were outlined Monday, Nov. 30, in a letter from Corbett Anderson, Chief Deputy Attorney General, Civil Rights Enforcement Section, to the Pottstown NAACP.
Further, the "recommendations by the Attorney General's Civil Rights Enforcement Section go beyond the measures the township publicly announced at a meeting earlier this year, after its own investigation," according to the NAACP release.
According to the NAACP's release, the full recommendations agreed to by New Hanover are:
- Personnel: In future hiring/promotion decisions for chief and sergeant, the township will hire and/or promote persons with a demonstrable prior personal commitment to fostering fair and impartial policing and a culturally inclusive workplace.
- Policy: the township will revise its rules of conduct for the police department: (1) to require the chief to “personally model the non-biased, culturally inclusive conduct expected of all members, supervisory and commanding officers, and employees;” and (2) to include, as an example of “unbecoming conduct” applicable to all officers, “any statement or action which raises serious doubt about the department’s or the individual’s commitment to the department’s policies regarding bias-based policing, racial profiling, equal employment opportunity, diversity, or harassment.” The township is also re-issuing its anti-harassment policy.
- Training: The department is arranging to receive training by the Pennsylvania State Police’s Heritage Affairs Section. Topics will include: the history of policing in America; cultural diversity awareness; racial profiling awareness; and implicit bias.
“The township has now committed to important changes,” said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “These changes are a starting point — I’m hopeful that New Hanover and their leadership can take these changes to heart and build a stronger, more equitable department," said Shapiro.
He added, "we appreciate the NAACP-Pottstown’s assistance on this matter, and its steadfast commitment to racial justice."
Johnny Corson, president of the Pottstown Branch of the NAACP, praised the result.
“We value our relationship with police. We thank the Attorney General’s office for their thorough and timely investigation,” he said. “We remain resolute in our stance against racism and injustice in our community and will continue to push for change and equity.”
"Sandy and I would like to thank the Pottstown Branch of the NAACP and the team of investigators for taking our complaint and getting it the Attorney General," Keith and Sandy Youse wrote in response to a request for comment from MediaNews Group.
"It was a hard decision to come forward but we felt our obligation to end or mitigate these types of actions outweighed anything else. We hope as a result of these adopted agreed upon policies, it will improve and install confidence in our minority community members," they wrote.
The dispute and investigation also spawned another conflict.
In November 2019, Psota was an unsuccessful candidate to unseat District Justice Maurice Saylor.
Psota charged in a whistleblower lawsuit filed in October that his public disclosure of the allegations in the department resulted in a concerted effort to cost him the election.
The lawsuit accuses McKeon of submitting Psota's name for a list of "dishonest" police officers despite it being unfounded and subsequently negated by the district attorney — and Saylor's campaign of using that list to undermine Psota's campaign for district judge.
Psota could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.