The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office is examining allegations of racism by police in a rural Montgomery County township.
The inquiry stems from a complaint filed last year by a former New Hanover Township police officer who described a racist and toxic work environment in the department. Keith Youse filed the complaint after finding an egg roll in his personal belongings when he retired. He said he interpreted that as a slight against his wife, Sandy, who is Korean-American.
Youse also said Police Chief Kevin McKeon and another senior officer in the department regularly used racial slurs, including the N-word.
“If cops do this to other cops, I can only imagine what is happening to the general public,” Youse told The Inquirer last month.
After concerns expressed by the Pottstown branch of the NAACP and U.S. Rep. Madeline Dean, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro launched an inquiry, a spokesperson for his office said Monday.
“The attorney general is committed to making the changes we need to root out systemic racism and build community trust in law enforcement,” Jacklin Rhoads, Shapiro’s spokesperson, said in a statement.
The township’s board of supervisors hired an attorney to investigate the allegations in 2019. Late last month, officials said the inquiry could not substantiate most of them.
However, the lawyer, John Gonzales, did find evidence that township employees had made “sporadic inappropriate racial comments in years past,” according to township supervisors. The supervisors have declined to identify which employees made the comments, but promised to address the conduct with sensitivity training.
McKeon, the police chief, has denied the allegations, and through an attorney said he “stands behind the results” of the township’s investigation.
Sources familiar with the attorney general’s investigation said representatives from the office’s civil rights division want to examine materials Gonzales prepared in the course of his inquiry.
Board of Supervisors President Charles Garner Jr. did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The Pottstown chapter of the NAACP conducted its own investigation after learning of Youse’s complaint, and found more than a dozen people who said they had either witnessed racist behavior by McKeon or had heard about it.
In a letter sent to the township last week, chapter president Johnny Corson asked for the names of the employees who had been interviewed by Gonzales, and submitted a list of demands, including that the police department’s code of conduct be updated and that officers wear body cameras.
“Despite our concerns about the report as it was described in your statement — we note that the report was not shared with us or with the public — we remain willing to work with township officials and the police force to forge a better relationship with the community,” Corson wrote.