Internal state investigation of KHP superintendent: Col. Jones’ conduct not sexual harassment

Redacted document asserts coup attempt made against Jones, four other top KHP officers

The internal investigation report by the Kansas Department of Administration of allegations against Kansas Highway Patrol Col. Herman Jones found in March that complaints of three women
The internal investigation report by the Kansas Department of Administration of allegations against Kansas Highway Patrol Col. Herman Jones found in March that complaints of three women "cannot be categorized as sexual harassment." (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Kansas Department of Administration investigators looking into allegations of workplace personnel misconduct by Kansas Highway Patrol Col. Herman Jones uncovered evidence a group of KHP insiders attempted to organize a coup to oust Jones and four other top officers at the law enforcement agency.

The Kansas Reflector obtained through the Kansas Open Records Act the nine-page summary of the inquiry that revealed a female KHP employee said she was part of a coordinated effort to oust Jones, Lt. Col. Jason De Vore, Maj. Robert Kenner, Maj. Mike Murphy and Maj. Eric Sauer. The plot didn’t target Maj. Scott Harrington and Maj. Josh Kellerman, who were at the forefront of an effort to convince women with concerns about Jones to file formal complaints. Four months later, Jones took action to dismiss Harrington and Kellerman.

The report from the state Department of Administration focusing on Jones’ purported conduct dated March 26 said the KHP leader likely engaged in physical contact with two women at the agency, but that his conduct “cannot be categorized as sexual harassment.” In addition, the Department of Administration investigators, who were both women, indicated they were suspicious female complainants engaged in “orchestration” of allegations or at least conducted prior discussions about how to frame charges against Jones.

“Due to the extremely strong likelihood of bias against Col. Jones from almost every witness that was interviewed … it was extremely difficult to find virtually any of the allegations made as wholly substantiated,” said the summary prepared by Kraig Knowlton, director of personnel services at the Department of Administration.

A Kansas Department of Administration inquiry shows Kansas Highway Patrol insiders engaged in a coup attempt to oust KHP Col. Herman Jones and four other top KHP officers considered loyal to him. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
A Kansas Department of Administration inquiry shows Kansas Highway Patrol insiders engaged in a coup attempt to oust KHP Col. Herman Jones and four other top KHP officers considered loyal to him. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

The document, which had several names of complainants redacted, noted Department of Administration investigators concluded there was an interconnected network of KHP staff who objected to Jones’ leadership and remained loyal to former KHP Col. Mark Bruce, who was fired by the governor in 2019 after he attempted to help his top deputy avoid responsibility for alleged domestic violence at a Missouri hotel in 2018.

Bruce, who has filed a pair of lawsuits challenging his pressured resignation, is being represented by the same Topeka law firm hired by the two former KHP majors who filed suit against Jones and others claiming they were forced out in retaliation for encouraging women to report claims about Jones or others. Last week, Harrington and Kellerman asserted in a U.S. District Court filing they were victims of unlawful termination for exercising First Amendment rights to discuss KHP issues with people outside the agency.

Kellerman and Harrington said in their lawsuit that female employees at KHP approached them from April 2019 to July 2020 with charges of sexual harassment by Jones and gender discrimination claims tied to Jones and De Vore. In July, Kellerman accepted a demotion before being fired. Harrington resigned under pressure.

The investigation report released by the administration of Gov. Laura Kelly was separate from an independent analysis of complaints leveled against Jones that was conducted by a law firm hired by the Department of Administration. The external report hasn’t been made public due to attorney-client privilege.

In response to the release of the redacted summary document, a spokesperson for the governor said she “continues to support Colonel Herman Jones’ efforts for reform and accountability at the Kansas Highway Patrol.”

In the Department of Administration’s summary, the text reveals Susan Pfannenstiel, the human resources director at the KHP, contacted the state agency in February regarding alleged violations of workplace conduct rules by Jones. Pfannenstiel, who had been human resources director at KHP under both Bruce and Jones, told Department of Administration investigators that KHP was filled with “a bunch of guys who don’t like their cheese moved,” possibly a reference to the reaction some people have to changes in work or life.

Pfannenstiel said she wasn’t a witness to any alleged sexual harassment incidents that surfaced in March involving Jones. However, the Department of Administration’s summary said the KHP director shared that Harrington and Kellerman were “both very concerned about Col. Jones and have reported multiple incidents to her.” She spoke highly of Kellerman and Harrington, the two majors who departed KHP in July in conjunction with announcement Jones had been cleared in the state investigation.

Pfannenstiel said Jones made inappropriate comments in the workplace, including a statement during a meeting with 17 captains and five majors in which the colonel looked around the room and said, “All I see is white people.” Jones is Black. In addition, the report said, Pfannenstiel suggested the governor could “save face” by allowing Jones to retire due to a medical condition.

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.