KPD investigation found lieutenant violated harassment policies

  • In US
  • 2022-12-03 19:37:00Z
  • By The Keene Sentinel, N.H.

Dec. 3-The city of Keene demoted a veteran police officer from a supervisory role earlier this year after an internal investigation found he'd violated department sexual harassment and harassment policies, according to documents The Sentinel obtained through a public records request.

Jason Short, who has spent more than 23 years at the Keene Police Department, was demoted because the investigation determined he'd created a hostile work environment and made inappropriate comments to female employees, among other issues, the documents the city turned over late last month show.

The probe concluded Short fell below minimum performance standards for officer safety, supervision of critical incidents and relationships with citizens, suspects and subordinates.

"Lieutenant Short's actions, behaviors, and sub-standard leadership skills are unacceptable at any level within this department," a summary of the internal investigation states.

Prior to his demotion on May 15, Short had an annual base salary of $95,846, or about $46 per hour, as a lieutenant commanding the bureau of criminal investigation, according to information provided by the city's human resources department. As a sergeant, he now earns $83,346 annually, or about $40 per hour, the HR department said.

As with other city employees, his salary is paid through Keene's municipal budget, the majority of which is raised from tax dollars.

Short had been promoted to lieutenant on Aug. 16, 2015, and served as one of three lieutenants supervising patrol officers until the fall of 2018, when he became the lieutenant in charge of the criminal investigations bureau, according to Keene Police Chief Steven Stewart.

Stewart, who conducted the internal investigation as a captain before being promoted to chief in September, said the police prosecutor position Short now holds as a sergeant handles arraignments for misdemeanor and violation-level cases and also reviews and screens cases against juveniles.

Short did not return phone or email requests for comment made late last week. Former Police Chief Steven Russo, who retired Sept. 1, deferred questions to Stewart, who succeeded him.

When pointed to the city's sexual harassment policy, which states that any violation "will result in appropriate discipline, up to and including immediate termination," Stewart said he felt the demotion was fair. A demotion such as this, he said, is exceptionally rare and serves as a lesson for everyone.

"Based on the totality of the circumstances and the information we had to consider, we felt it was an appropriate recommendation to the city manager," Stewart said.

Internal investigation

On Dec. 22, 2021, the Keene Police Officers Association emailed a 15-page report to the department's command staff raising concerns about Short's behavior and prompting the internal investigation that led to his demotion, according to the documents provided by the city.

"Lt. Short has routinely displayed behaviors of anger/rage toward members of KPOA, frequently displays an other-than-positive attitude toward the job, offends and antagonizes members, as well as being unnecessarily rude and discourteous," the report from the city's police officers union states.

Donald Lundin, KPOA's president, did not return phone and email requests for comment made last week. Short is a member of a separate union of Keene police supervisors, according to City Manager Elizabeth Dragon.

Stewart's investigation did not find evidence to support all of the KPOA's allegations, but found Short had violated department policies related to sexual harassment, harassment and supervisory performance standards, the summary of the investigation states.

Allegations that the investigation found to be "not sustained" were redacted from the documents, according to the city's response to The Sentinel's public records request. The city also redacted information related to police investigative techniques and the names of third parties and confidential informants.

At one point in a document outlining an interview with Short, Stewart described the situation resulting from Short's actions as a "dysfunctional disaster."

On Dec. 29, 2021, the department suspended all proactive drug investigations during the internal investigation, according to the documents. Stewart said the freeze on these types of cases, which were causing the most contention in the criminal investigations bureau, remained in effect until just before the investigation's conclusion in April.

The KPOA email states that union members' problems with Short date back years, including when he was a patrol supervisor, but that officers did not report incidents involving him because he was a higher-up and they feared retaliation.

The union's report goes on to raise concerns about Short's interactions with the public, multiple verbal altercations it says he'd had with staff, sexualized comments it says he'd made about female officers and his treatment of confidential informants.

"The relationships Lt. Short has with the public is appalling," the report states. "He puts [officers'] safety in danger because he is so volatile and he escalates each incident."

In at least two instances, Short attempted to guess the bra sizes of female employees at the department, the documents state. When asked during Stewart's investigation about these alleged comments, according to the documents, Short admitted he probably made them and stated, "I had the uncanny ability to guess bra sizes when I was in college."

He also admitted to using the "C-word" to refer to an employee at a county attorney's office, according to the documents. (Though Short now works in the court system as the police prosecutor, Stewart said the position has limited contact with county-attorney staff, who tend to focus on felony cases.)

Short did not deny other instances raised in the KPOA report where he allegedly made comments of a sexual nature toward female employees, but said he did not remember them and that if they did happen it was in the context of a joke, the documents state. In an interview with Stewart that the captain detailed in the documents, Short said such jokes were typical of the banter within the department.

Four of the five employees who worked in Short's bureau said they felt he created a hostile work environment, according to the summary of the internal investigation, as did three employees outside his bureau.

One of the four employees said it's not the job that is stressful, it's Short, according to the documents. Others described purposely avoiding walking by his office, not wanting to come into work, considering quitting or leaving his bureau, and feeling that Short damaged cases by insisting without input that things be done his way, the documents state. The KPOA report alleges there were multiple instances when Short yelled at employees, and says the police union also raised concern that breakdowns in communication within his bureau imperiled officer safety.

Short said he never intended to upset his employees and aimed to support their careers, according to the documents, and that he felt those in his bureau were like brothers and sisters who get mad at each other one day but are fine the next.

The KPOA report also cites a few instances where it says Short became angry at confidential informants, including one where an officer thought he might assault the person. Short, according to the investigation documents, admitted to being mad at the informant in this instance, but said it was for the CI's own benefit.

The internal investigation also concluded that in one instance Short failed to file a use-of-force report when required, documents state. Stewart told The Sentinel this had to do with a burglary investigation that "wasn't well planned," with detectives believing they were going to knock on a suspect's door and have a conversation but Short feeling the suspect should be arrested immediately. The police chief didn't specify what the use of force was, only that it was more than just handcuffing someone. He added that the failure to file the form "wasn't a serious violation" and there was some debate as to how substantial the use of force in this case was.

Other reprimands

The documents the city provided The Sentinel also included several other instances where Short had faced reprimand and suspensions during his career at the Keene Police Department, most of them related to his use of department vehicles.

In 1999, he received an official reprimand and was ordered to work a day without pay to reimburse the city after he drove over a business' lawn in a department vehicle, damaging both the property and the vehicle, documents state.

Then, in 2000, he was suspended without pay for a day for driving his police vehicle past a number of school buses displaying stop lights and for exiting a crowded Wheelock Park at a high speed while being dispatched to a fight, according to documents.

In 2001, Short was reprimanded again and suspended for a day without pay for being disrespectful to an officer supervising firearms training at a range, who had told him he had committed a safety violation, the documents state.

And, on April 10, 2004, he totaled a police cruiser when he crashed it into a garage on a condominium property off Base Hill Road while pursuing a vehicle that had been speeding, according to documents.

N.H. State Police investigated the crash and found that Short was at fault but that he did not violate any state laws, documents say. Keene Police, however, determined he violated department policy related to the safe operation of police vehicles and effectiveness of pursuits, according to the documents.

"The event reflects an aggressive policing style that compromised personal and public safety," then-Police Chief Arthur Walker wrote in a memo at the time. "The direct consequence of that was a collision that resulted in thousands of dollars worth of property damage, the total loss of a cruiser and many man-hours in investigative time."

Walker said in the memo that in his judgment the incident warranted a one-week suspension but because precedent was lacking for such a crash, he recommended Short be suspended for one day and attend a defensive driving course.

"The Department has virtually no record of taking disciplinary action against officers who are found at fault for an accident," Walker wrote. "This establishes a new level of accountability in that regard."

City's response

In addition to his demotion for violating the department's harassment and sexual harassment policies, the city required Short to attend sexual harassment and positive-workspace trainings, according to the documents summarizing the investigation.

He will be evaluated every three months and if he fails to meet the standards set out in the training, he could be required to attend more, be disciplined further or be fired, the documents state. Stewart said Short has so far remained in good standing.

None of the findings of the internal investigation warrant Short's inclusion on the Exculpatory Evidence Schedule, and he has not been added to the list, according to Stewart. The EES, better known as the Laurie List, is a catalog of current and former New Hampshire law enforcement officers whose personnel information contains potentially exculpatory evidence, or evidence that is favorable to a defendant in a criminal case. Many officers on the list have been included because they have been subject to disciplinary action or for potential credibility issues.

Asked about the KPOA's claims that Short's behavior had been allowed for years and whether that was indicative of the culture at the Keene Police Department, Stewart said, "We became aware of some significant performance concerns and we addressed them.

"I don't think it says anything about the culture of the department," he said. "It's an individual personnel matter that was brought to our attention and dealt with."

Ryan Spencer can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1412, or Follow him on Twitter at @rspencerKS


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