Kent faced scrutiny, corrective action as Chief
Nolanville chief of police and longtime Covite Gary Kent has been subject to corrective actions not once, but twice during 2016 by Nolanville city manager Kara Escajeda.
This is according to two memos from Escajeda, one written to that city’s mayor, David Escobar, the other as a memo to Kent himself, copies of which were given to the Cove Leader-Press, with the second memo including the resignation letter of a female officer.
January memo addressed seven allegations
The corrective actions were the result of two female former employees of the police department filing complaints with Escajeda, with an administrative assistant in the department, alleging Kent fell short in his duties as chief of police and made inappropriate remarks. The second employee, a female officer, alleged Kent violated department and TECOLE training policies, and also crossed the line into sexual harassment.
The first memo, from City Manager Escajeda to Mayor Escobar, is dated Jan. 25, 2016 and was written to Escobar as a result of her interviewing department officers along with reviewing the written complain from the police department’s former administrative employee.
That employee—whose name is redacted from the memo—said she had “fears of retaliation, emotional toll and hostile environment.” According to Escajeda, on Jan. 19 the employee considered retracting her statement after a meeting she requested with Chief Kent, in order to get back her position. Yet Escajeda urged the employee not to retract her statement unless the allegations were false.
At that time, the former police department employee had been re-hired by the City of Nolanville for an administrative position in City Hall.
Escajeda’s inquiry included seven allegations against Chief Kent, namely: report for monthly service calls, unprofessional comments, pay stub collection, unrelated activities during shift, recommendation to alter an (employee) application, mishandling of the Toys for Tots program, along with a range incident, as well as safety review procedures.
The unprofessional comments were alluded to in Escajeda’s memo, which she verified from another individual during the course of her investigation. The allegation surrounded a conversation about having “blonde” hair were made in a conversation involving Kent, and the officer was asked if she took offense to “blonde” comments. The officer indicated she thought the comments were unprofessional.
“I asked each of the officers interviewed, if they felt they were ever sexually harassed by anyone in the department and none reported sexual harassment or a climate condoning such behavior,” Escajeda wrote.
In her memo, Escajeda also elaborated on the former employee’s allegations of Kent’s unrelated activities during shift. The former employee said his “election campaign interfered with his job as police chief.” Escajeda stated in her memo that Chief Kent is a salaried employee, he routinely works greater than the 40-hour work week and is on call 24/7, and she did not observe a degradation in his performance during his campaign. The city’s personnel policy doesn’t forbid employees running for office or campaigning for another person; however, those activities are prohibited while on duty or in a city uniform.
Another allegation was Kent recommended that a female applicant for the department alter her application in regard to her past history. During Escajeda’s inquiry, that employee said she only completed one application and was not coached to leave off information or complete a different version and that she also disclosed her full history to the academy.
But in her memo, Escajeda wrote that all the officers interviewed were knowledgeable of this officer’s history and one expressed that they were “embarrassed that the Harker Heights Police Department knew.”
In conclusion, regarding the “blonde” remarks, Escajeda said she “did find there is concerned of unprofessional remarks made by Chief Kent. I do not find that these fall under the category of harassment.” She cited a 1993 court case in which it states “alleged harassment must be sufficiently severe or pervasive enough to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment.”
Escajeda further acknowledged in the memo that there was an opportunity to “increase Chief Kent’s supervisory skills on the management of employee conduct, perception and organizational climate.”
Kent assigned corrective actions; second female employee resigns in August
Escajeda’s three recommendations in January were for Kent to attend the Texas Municipal League three-day supervisor’s course, the TML Ethics course, and TML harassment training “as it is developed.” She also recommended he provide group training to the department on confidentiality statements and resign statements, and that he also revise the personnel policy manual to detail “other types of harassment” and reporting/investigating procedures.
Then on Aug. 5 a female police officer submitted her resignation from the Nolanville Police Department.
This time, in a Sept. 12 memo from Escajeda to Kent, Escajeda wrote that the Bojorquez Law Firm would appoint an “impartial attorney familiar with employment law, Laura Mueller, to conduct an informal inquiry” into this second Nolanville PD employee’s allegation.
Two allegations were substantiated in the female employee’s complaint, Escajeda wrote, that of violation of the city’s field training policy and violation of the City of Nolanville Personnel Manual and Police Department Orders that prohibit harassment and inappropriate conduct.
The female officer, whose name was redacted from both the memo and her resignation letter, stated in her resignation that Kent touched her hair while riding in a patrol car together on Oct. 3, 2015, the day of a citizens’ and first responders’ softball game.
“Chief Kent touched my hair and my shoulder in a very unwelcome, unsolicited, and inappropriate manner. His actions were recorded by the patrol unit’s backseat camera. The video shows him looking left and right, then drying his left palm onto his left leg. He proceeds to look left and right again, strokes my hair and shoulder one time, then does it again. I was wearing a grey sleeveless Texas Rangers shirt.” The officer was a reserve officer with the department at that time.
She wrote that when she met with the city manager on Aug. 3, 2016 in person, prior to submitting her written resignation to Escajeda, she told the city manager she didn’t report Kent’s actions sooner because she “feared retaliation and that I did not want to lose the opportunity for full-time employment.” She wrote that at the time, Escajeda told the former officer she believed her about what Kent had allegedly done.
The female former officer’s allegations regarding officer training also involved the female officer applicant discussed in the Jan. 25, 2016 memo to the mayor, but this time allegations involved not only the applicant’s history of alleged “extensive” drug use, but that the female applicant, now an officer, had not completed the Field Training Officer (FTO) program required of officers on the force.
Furthermore in her resignation letter, the former female officer stated she was the officer’s FTO and had expressed concerns both to Kent and the Nolanville city manager that the new officer working for the department was not competent nor capable of fulfilling the duties of her position.
In her conversation with Kent, the resigning female officer stated she had told Kent it “should not take an officer approximately nine months to learn how to do a traffic stop” and also alleged Kent had showed preferential treatment to this new female officer, when another officer had been relieved of their duty for deficiencies in the past. She further alleged evidence of this officer’s timidity and lack of competence could be seen in the department’s body camera videos.
The FTO Program is a five-phase program and there was documentation as of the time of the inquiry that the new female officer had only completed two of those phases.
The bulk of the resignation letter concerns the alleged incompetence which the female former officer observed of the other female officer on the job, along with training violations that go against TECOLE standards and requirements, such as her own promotion to the supervisory role of corporal which she did not apply for, after which promotion she said she learned about the certification requirement.
In her letter, the officer stated she “brokenheartedly” departed from her job and that the citizens deserve to have “the absolute best police officers working with fully functioning equipment, adequate training, and fully focused mindset.” She wrote that during her time of working for the department since 2013, periodically both as a reserve officer and as a full-time officer, she never received a reprimand or been written up, nor received any disciplinary action that entire time.
More corrective actions for Kent in September regarding officer training, inappropriate conduct
The results of the September 2016 inquiry were three-fold, with City Manager Escajeda ordering that the new officer complete the entire FTO program—starting again at phase one—and that the FTO assigned to the officer would determine and document that she was competent at her duties.
Meanwhile, Chief Kent was instructed to report officer training in his monthly report to the Nolanville city council.
As for corrective action regarding Kent’s “inappropriate conduct”, Escajeda required Kent to complete four human resource courses through the TML Intergovernmental Risk Pool.
The City of Nolanville’s Personnel Manual dated Oct. 1, 2015 states, “All employees, including supervisors and department heads, will be subject to severe discipline, up to and including termination, for any act of sexual harassment they commit.”
In the resignation letter, the female former officer stated she would not cooperate with the city’s investigation because the legal counsel conducting the inquiry was the firm contracted with the city of Nolanville. She stated she was advised by the city manager that the attorney would be someone whom “(Escajeda) and Chief Kent did not know.” She said the attorney who contacted her, a Herb Prouty, was with the Bojorquez Law Firm and admitted to knowing Kent as a result of something he had investigated not related to her investigation.
On Aug. 24, the Texas Workforce Commission issued a Determination of Unemployment Benefits to the female former officer. The determination states that “Our investigation found you quit your last job because the working environment conditions were an unreasonable threat to your health, safety, or morals. This is considered good cause connected with the work.”
Kent: “Officer bitterness”
Kent, who has been employed by the Nolanville Police Department for 21 years, sat down with the Leader-Press to address the allegations reflected in the memos written by Escajeda, of which he was aware and also had been provided copies of previously, along with the female officer’s resignation letter.
“As any employer or supervisor, you have some (employees) that work out well and there are some that don’t work out well, for whatever reason,” Kent said. “Whether it’s a good fit for the city, or not a good fit for the officer. People leave for various reasons.
I want to be held accountable not for the way people treat me, but for the way I treat people. My character, I think, is beyond reproach. I want to treat people right. This is officer bitterness. That’s it in a nutshell,” Kent said. “When people do stuff like that, I don’t harbor ill feelings toward them. My thing is, I just pray for them. That’s the best I can do.”
Kent said he’s complied with all corrective actions required of him by City Manager Escajeda, both in the case of the January memo to Nolanville’s mayor and the September memo she sent to Kent.
While working as Nolanville’s police chief, Kent also served on the Copperas Cove city council from 2010-2015, but resigned from council in summer 2015 during his second term to run for mayor. This year Kent is in a run-off for place 4 on Dec. 13.
Kent said he can’t help but wonder if this emergence of documents was related to his campaign.
He admitted he was surprised to hear of these incidents being brought up now.
“Was it shocking? Who wouldn’t it be shocking to? What’s their ulterior motive? That was ironic about it; those issues were addressed,” Kent said of the allegations. “So what’s the point now? Is it that I’m in an election, trying to cause damage to me in the election?”
Kent also addressed the question of any conflict of interest between his job for the City of Nolanville and his campaign in Copperas Cove. He said he tries to keep everything “separate.”
“I make it a point to. When I’m in Nolanville, if a reporter calls me, I tell them I can’t answer now,” Kent said. “I don’t want it ever to be said there is a conflict. I don’t even want to give the perception of it.”
Kent said “lunch is lunch” if he is in uniform during the day shift, and while he said he will not campaign on the job or in uniform, he can do lunch with anyone.
Kent offered his own perspective on how he conducts himself as chief of police.
“I take pride in what I do, and I always try to do the right thing. Even though this was done, I still have to stay above,” he said. “Like I said, it’s just unbelievable that this is being done. I take pride in what I do, how I treat people, but I know there are people out there that would try to smear me.”
In copies of emails exchanged between the female former officer and Special Agent Robert P. Mundy of the FBI on Aug. 26, the officer stated she had resigned due to corruption, violations of civil rights of citizens, sexual harassment by the chief of police, and that there were regular violations of TECOLE training regulations. She further told Mundy she had spoken to the mayor, city manager, assistant city manager, TCOLE, the Texas Rangers, and the Bell County district attorney.
Mundy replied that he would “write this up and refer to people who handle public corruption. I can’t guarantee anything.”