Two former majors in the Kansas Highway Patrol, who were dismissed in July, filed a federal lawsuit Friday alleging wrongful termination and violation of their First Amendment constitutional rights. The former officers allege they were retaliated against for helping female KHP employees file complaints of sexual harassment and gender discrimination against KHP Col. Herman Jones and Lt. Col. Jason De Vore. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly on Thursday expressed unqualified support for the superintendent of the Kansas Highway Patrol following completion of internal and external reviews of allegations he engaged in sexual harassment, gender discrimination and misuse of state aircraft.
KHP Superintendent Herman Jones, who assumed the law enforcement agency’s top job in 2019, was the subject of a review by the Kansas Department of Administration and the law firm of Fisher, Patterson, Sayler & Smith. Neither affirmed wrongdoing by Jones.
“My administration has a responsibility to make sure the agency and leadership are living up to the values that Kansans expect,” Kelly said. “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 replaced former KHP Col. Mark Bruce, who was ousted from the job amid a scandal involving the agency’s second in command. Bruce was one of the few holdovers from the administrations of Govs. Jeff Colyer and Sam Brownback.
Kelly said the KHP should be held to high standards and that previous administrators had fallen short of expectations.
“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,” the governor said.
The statement released by the governor’s office also said KHP Majors Scott Harrington and Josh Kellerman were no longer employees of the agency. The moves are part of work to improve the “culture and structure” of the KHP, Jones said.
“I’m confident that the Kansas Highway Patrol will continue to grow stronger as an organization and improve our ability to carry out our mission,” Jones said.
A statement issued by the Kansas State Troopers Association said Harrington and Kellerman were fired after they supported women who filed complaints regarding unwelcome contact from Jones.
“This makes it abundantly clear that these terminations are designed to silence these majors and all future complaints,” the association said. “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.”
Three KHP employees had accused Jones of sexual harassment in the form of unwanted physical contact or comments, including slapping their backs or shoulders, hugging, standing close to people and making awkward comments “that were not of a sexual nature.”
The investigation exonerated Jones, but the superintendent said he would avoid greetings that made employees uncomfortable.
He also was accused of misusing state aircraft for a family vacation. The inquiry revealed he used a state airplane twice. In spring 2019, he flew to Pratt for the funeral of a law enforcement officer and proceeded to Wichita for a graduation ceremony. The summary of the investigation report released by the governor’s office said both constituted state business and were appropriate.
In addition, Jones relied on state-owned aircraft in July 2019 to return early from vacation in Colorado to attend a mandatory meeting of the governor’s cabinet. None of his family accompanied the colonel on the flight back to Kansas. The return trip was deemed to be appropriate, the governor’s office said.
In addition, a complaint involving a KHP employee arising from unrelated administrative actions was reviewed in terms of potential gender discrimination. The inquiry concluded Jones’ actions were consistent with KHP policy and accountability priorities.
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