Watchdog

KDPS chief loses misconduct review, wins retirement deal

Kalamazoo's chief of public safety stands accused of discrimination and harassment during the brief time he was in charge of the department. But Vernon Coakley is being allowed to retire with a year of pay and full benefits.

Independent consultants hired by the City of Kalamazoo to investigate the conduct of Vernon Coakley, the chief of Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety (KDPS) since October 2020, found three people who lodged complaints of harassment against him were credible and that Coakley committed four code violations.

The investigators’ report found Coakley violated the “Code of Conduct/Discriminatory Harassment” for an “allegation of discrimination and harassment related to alleged sexual harassment,” violated the “Standards of Conduct” for an “allegation of discrimination and harassment related to alleged verbal abuse,” and violated the “Standards of Conduct” in two more instances for allegations “of discrimination and harassment related to alleged use of language that may constitute sexual harassment.”

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The investigation by Ohio-based INCompliance Consulting was submitted on Nov. 22 to the city, which then released it publicly on Dec. 29. That report can be found here.

In a joint statement distributed by the city, Coakley and the city said that Coakley “disagrees with the findings and the nature of the investigation.”

Details of the complaints and 19 witness interviews are in the report, though the names of the accusers were not disclosed. Deputy City Manager Jeff Chamberlain told city staff in an email that “identifiable information of employees and witnesses were redacted to protect the identities of the brave individuals who came forward,” and warned that attempts to violate their anonymity will be viewed as “a form of retaliation for making a complaint,” which could lead to being fired.

Along with the release of the report, the City of Kalamazoo announced a deal with Coakley, who has been on paid administrative leave since Aug. 16, including:

  • “Retirement in Good Standing,” effective Jan. 1, 2023
  • Full pension and standard retirement benefits
  • Twelve months’ salary as severance, roughly $155,000
  • Payout for unused sick and vacation time
  • An agreement not to file any lawsuits against or speak bad about the city or employees

The full separation agreement provided by the city can be found here.

NowKalamazoo asked city officials why, in light of the sustained allegations, Coakley was being given retirement instead of firing; retirement in good standing despite the conclusion of the investigators’ report; a one-year salary as severance; and full pension? In addition, we asked if the result would have a consequence of discouraging future complaints or encouraging bad behavior?

The full response from the city, conveyed by Communications Manager Michael Smith, was: “The City of Kalamazoo and legal counsel from the City’s hired labor firm, Miller Canfield, began discussions with counsel representing Chief Coakley regarding the investigation results and potential steps toward a resolution. The separation agreement was reached between the City and Chief Coakley and became effective on December 28. Chief Coakley’s departure and his “Retirement in Good Standing” designation is part of that negotiated separation agreement. As City Manager Jim Ritsema stated, the negotiated separation agreement is the right decision for all parties involved.”

David Boysen, who has been acting chief since Coakley was put on paid administrative leave, has been named the new chief as of Jan. 1.

Coakley is a 24-year veteran of KDPS. He was promoted to chief in October 2020 to replace then-Chief Karianne Thomas. Thomas was fired following the department’s mishandling of Black Lives Matter protests and a white supremacist rally earlier that summer.

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