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KDPS Chief Coakley ousted: Investigation finds allegations of harassment credible

KDPS Chief Vernon Coakley at a Nov. 11, 2021 news conference, will step down, effective Jan. 1, 2023.
Leona Larson
Kalamazoo Public Safety Chief Vernon Coakley at a 2021 news conference, will step down, effective Jan. 1, 2023.

Vernon Coakley will retire as chief of the Kalamazoo Public Safety Department effective Sunday. Interim chief David Boysen will replace Coakley as the new chief.

The City of Kalamazoo announced Thursday it had reached a separation agreement with KDPS Chief Vernon Coakley last week. Coakley was given seven days to rescind that agreement before the City made it public today.

Under the terms of the agreement, Coakley’s retirement takes effect on Jan. 1. He will receive a severance package of $155,250, the equivalent of a year’s pay, as well as a pension and any unused sick or vacation time he has left.

Coakley’s ouster comes months after harassment complaints against the chief became public in August. Coakley was put on paid administrative leave on Aug. 16 while an investigation into the allegations was conducted by an outside agency.

“I want to start by strongly emphasizing that allegations involving any kind of harassment are taken very seriously, and the City of Kalamazoo will always fully investigate any claims as required by law and the City’s personnel policies,” said City Manager Jim Ritsema in a written statement. “These last few months have been difficult, and we now must move forward. However, I believe the negotiated settlement is the right decision for all involved. To those employees who brought forth these allegations, I thank you for bravely coming forward. The process was long, but necessary to gather all the facts and to ensure that those involved were treated with the measure of due process as required by law.”

The investigation by INCompliance of Columbus, Ohio found the complaints, which included sexual harassment allegations, were credible. The 30-page report was given to the City on Nov. 22 and made public on Thursday along with the announcement that Coakley was stepping down. The published report includes “applicable Freedom of Information redactions” and concludes that “there is a clear pattern of unwelcome sexual behavior towards at least three individuals…”

While Coakley “disagrees” with the findings of the investigation or the intent of his interactions, the report found he violated the department’s standards of conduct and discriminatory harassment.

According to the report, the first complaint was filed by a female KDPS employee on June 30. She alleged that between 2018 and 2019 Coakley repeatedly pulled her hair even though she asked him to stop. She also accused him of yelling at her in public for not saying “hi” to him on June 28.

Two more complaints, filed by two female city employees in the days before Coakley was placed on administrative leave in August, allege Coakley had spoken inappropriately to them.

“Taken together,” the report said, “they demonstrate an inappropriate application of sexualized power in the context of law enforcement interaction with civilians. While this does not rise to the level of a policy violation for purposes of sexual harassment under the circumstances and given the isolated nature of particular comments, it does not appear to be reflective of the professionalism expected of a police officer at KDPS.”

The City said Coakley’s separation will be listed as “retirement in good standing” under the Law Enforcement Officer Separation of Service Record Act and that Coakley agreed not to sue the city or disparage it.

Coakley served the department for more than 24 years. Starting out as a patrol officer, he was appointed chief in October 2020. Coakley replaced Karianne Thomas, who was fired amid criticism of the department’s handling of Black Lives Matter protests and a Proud Boys rally in downtown Kalamazoo during the summer of 2020. Thomas also received $150,000 in severance pay.

Acting Public Safety Chief David Boysen will be sworn in as the new chief in a private ceremony next week. Boysen has been with KDPS for 26 years and was appointed deputy chief in March 2021.

“Chief Boysen is the right person to lead our KDPS team and I know that he, and the nearly 300 employees of KDPS, will continue to work every day to keep our community safe,” said Ritsema in the statement.

Leona has worked as a journalist for most of her life - in radio, print, television and as journalism instructor. She has a background in consumer news, special projects and investigative reporting.