Keith and Sandy Youse have spent the last few weeks watching protests over police brutality roil cities across the country, including Philadelphia, 42 miles from their home in Montgomery County.
No protests have come to New Hanover Township, a rural suburb of Pottstown patrolled by an 11-member, all-white police department. But the couple have been waging their own war against what they call “the thin blue line” being held up by Keith Youse’s former colleagues on the force.
On Monday, the township’s Board of Supervisors announced it had ended its months-long investigation of complaints from Youse and another former officer of racial intimidation and bullying by the police chief and other officers. Most of what Youse alleged, officials said, could not be substantiated.
Now, Youse’s supporters and a member of Congress are calling for an outside probe into his accusations against township Police Chief Kevin McKeon. They have referred the case to the state Attorney General’s Office and are pushing for more transparency, especially amid the national conversation on police reform.
“If cops do this to other cops, I can only imagine what is happening to the general public,” Youse said.
In an incident first reported by Philly Voice, Youse found an egg roll placed in his belongings at the office when he retired in 2019 due to a medical issue. He immediately recognized it as a slight against his wife, who is Korean American, and she tearfully confronted the township’s supervisors at a meeting days later.
In a formal complaint, Youse alleged a toxic culture in the department, asserting McKeon and another senior officer regularly peppered slurs, including the N-word, into conversations about suspects.
“We didn’t ask for this, we didn’t have to come forward,” Sandy Youse said in an interview this month. But when her husband showed her photos of the egg roll he found that day, “I was through the roof, I was so mad.”
Sitting close to the northern tip of Montgomery County, New Hanover has demographics that have insulated it from frequent conversations about race. Of its nearly 11,000 residents, 95% are white, according to U.S. Census data. The officers who patrol the township respond more frequently to traffic collisions and burglar alarms than violent crime.
Youse, 48, had been a cop for 22 years, including 14 in New Hanover. Originally from the nearby Upper Perkiomen Valley, he and his wife had lived in the township since 2002.
Recognizing the difficulty in having their complaint validated, the Youses contacted the Pottstown branch of the NAACP. The organization conducted its own investigation, interviewing more than a dozen people who said they either witnessed racist behavior by McKeon, or that they had heard about it. Their list included current and former township employees, as well as the police chief of a neighboring township who had his own run-in with McKeon.
Some spoke freely about what they said was the township’s blatant history of racism. Others were reluctant to speak on the record, the organization said, fearful of retaliation.
The NAACP submitted its findings to the supervisors. After stories in the Pottstown Mercury and pressure from the community, township officials hired John Gonzales, a Center City-based attorney, to investigate the claims.
For nearly a year, there was little word.
Johnny Corson, the president of the NAACP’s Pottstown chapter, wrote the supervisors June 10, pressing for details into the probe. If the results weren’t ready, he wrote, could they at least answer questions about how the investigation was being conducted?
“We will continue to maintain that the residents of New Hanover are entitled to know whether their concerns have been properly investigated,” Corson wrote. “In light of recent national events, the public needs to know that everyone — regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation — will be treated with equal fairness and respect by the New Hanover Police.”
Twelve days later, the board revealed the findings. A statement summarizing the results of the probe came at the end of the board meeting, read to a sparse crowd — many there to hear about the progress of a new road-salt shed being built. Neither Youse nor his wife attended.
Board president Charles Garner Jr. said the lawyer, Gonzales, had been “provided free rein” to conduct the investigation and interviewed 30 township employees. In the end, he said they could not determine who placed the egg roll in Youse’s belongings or whether it was done intentionally to “harass or intimidate” his family. They also said they could not substantiate Youse’s reports of derogatory language used against his family, and that some allegations were explicitly contradicted by some witnesses.
The investigation did uncover reports of township employees “making sporadic inappropriate racial comments in years past,” his statement said. The board promised to address these employees, whom they did not identify, and to implement “additional and regular” sensitivity training.
“The Board of Supervisors and township management fully recognize that such improper language cannot be tolerated in a modern, professional organization of any kind, particularly within a police department,” the statement read. “There should be no doubt that the board of supervisors has taken, and continues to take, these allegations seriously.”
Township Manager Jamie Gwynn declined to answer questions about the investigation, or release the full report submitted to supervisors.
Reached after the meeting, Corson declined to discuss the results but said his branch’s executive committee will craft a formal response.
“In our minds,” he said, “we don’t believe this is over.”
McKeon declined to comment. His attorney, Sean E. Cullen, said that the chief “stands behind the results” of the township’s investigation, and says the original allegations upset him because they “were simply not true.”
The 62-year-old has an annual salary of $117, 080, according to township data. His 10-year contract with New Hanover ends on Dec. 31, 2022. Before inking that agreement, McKeon was a lieutenant in Norristown, working on the force there for 30 years.
“The chief at every turn made himself available and provided without hesitation any records that were asked,” Cullen said. “Any new allegations that came up, we made arrangements to answer them. There was no interference from the chief.”
He said McKeon would “continue to cooperate” if another agency conducted a similar investigation.
Youse and his supporters worry that the township’s promises are just platitudes. And that the $30,000 spent on the investigation was wasted. “We don’t know the line of questions that were asked, the type of questions they asked,” he said. “Supporters say, ‘Oh, Youse is a liar,’ but they admitted that they found examples of racist behavior.”
Gonzales did not return a call seeking comment.
Youse and his supporters questioned the lawyer’s objectivity, noting that he also represented the township in an unrelated civil dispute with a resident while investigating his complaint. It’s one reason they say an outside agency should conduct its own investigation.
The NAACP brought the case to U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean, a Democrat whose district includes New Hanover Township. She asked Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a fellow Montgomery County Democrat, to examine the claims.
Dean said the situation in New Hanover is “an absolutely granular example” of what has motivated demonstrators across the country.
“If these allegations are true, how is it that a chief of police can be using racial slurs, can be using racial taunts against an officer, and what kind of culture has that established?” she said in an interview two days after the township meeting. “If citizens believe they cannot call upon their police department without fear of some sort of penalty or retribution or unequal treatment or racist treatment, we have a very serious problem.”
A spokesperson for Shapiro did not respond to a request for comment.
Sandy Youse said she and her husband are now afraid to drive through the township and have given their sons detailed instructions on what to do if they’re stopped by the police.
“Our community deserves better,” she said. “They deserve people who respect their people, regardless of color, race, whatever. And the people who are in charge now don’t.”