Delta Police Chief Nathan Hartsock and a village water plant supervisor each received a three-day suspension from work for failing to report an incident during which a village employee uttered a racial slur.
Hartsock’s suspension without pay was originally longer but was reduced during a Village Council executive session held Dec. 30. The suspension was issued for not reporting that water plant employee Billy Bucher uttered the the N word during a conversation held in a water plant break room on Dec. 2. Bucher was terminated.
An investigation by the village’s legal department also revealed that Bucher said he had been told by Hartsock not to use similar words and language on past occasions but it was never reported to village officials.
According to a memorandum from R. Kent Murphree, assistant Delta law director, Hartsock was at the water plant Dec. 2 investigating illegal dumping at the village reservoir when he engaged in conversation with Bucher in a break room. Bucher’s supervisor, Jamie Flores, and Joshua Strothers, a filtration system contractor representing Wisconsin-based Nalco Water, were also present.
While Hartsock and Bucher discussed the demise of the “COPS” reality television program, which was attributed to greater media interest in reporting shootings of African Americans, Strothers reported that Bucher replied, “What’s wrong with shooting n———-?” The memorandum reported that Flores indicated Bucher said the show was cancelled because of “shooting n———-.”
Strothers later reported he took offense at Bucher’s remark, then at Hartsock when the police chief warned Bucher, “Watch what you say. (I) don’t know this guy,” referring to Strothers. Bucher reportedly responded, “Don’t worry about that guy.”
Hartsock denied saying that in response to the slur.
The Nalco contractor was also offended that neither Hartsock nor Flores confronted Bucher over the gravity of his racist language.
Strothers reported the incident to his Nalco supervisor, expressing fear of returning to Delta due to its apparent racist atmosphere and because he was training a Black employee to accompany him. The supervisor contacted Flores by phone and said of Bucher’s slur, “It’s going to be a problem.” Flores admitted in a written statement to Village Administrator Brad Peebles that the supervisor’s complaint caused her to realize the seriousness of Bucher’s remark, consult the village employee handbook for guidance, then contact Peebles about the incident.
Peebles informed the legal department that he also was contacted by a Nalco representative, Jeffrey Tobin, about the incident.
In a statement to Murphree, Flores said she recalled Bucher using the phrase “shooting n———” during his conversation with Hartsock. Murphree said in his memorandum it seemed evident Flores “had no intention of doing anything about the comment until Strothers’ supervisor called her and expressed that the issue was going to be a problem.”
When questioned by Murphree, Bucher admitted using the racial slur and said he “thought nothing of it at the time.” Bucher offered to apologize to Strothers but noted, “I didn’t say it to him.” He also revealed that Hartsock had warned him on previous occasions that he shouldn‘t use that racist word or other racially-charged language. Bucher also said he couldn’t recall Hartsock responding to his slur in the manner that both Flores and Strothers reported hearing.
During a Dec. 15 telephone conversation with Murphree, Hartsock denied responding to Bucher’s racial slur as Flores and Strothers had reported. He also said that Bucher “didn’t mean anything by it” and “We were having a private conversation.” Hartsock told Murphree that Strothers could have objected to Bucher’s language, according to the memorandum.
Hartsock later told Murphree that before Bucher used the N word Hartsock may have gestured toward Strothers to silently warn Bucher to be careful what he said during the conversation. He also said he “did not feel compelled to report the comment” since Bucher didn’t work for him.
The police chief didn’t return calls for comment.
Delta Mayor Bob Gilbert, who oversees the police department, said he became upset when he learned the police chief didn’t report Bucher’s break room comment or previous racial comments to village administrators. Gilbert said he told Hartsock: “Chief, (if you had) stopped him from doing this months ago, then we wouldn’t have been in this situation today.”
On Dec. 23, Bucher was terminated by the village and Flores received a three-day suspension without pay. Hartsock received a 30-day suspension without pay from Gilbert.
However, at the Dec. 30 executive session scheduled for Village Council to formalize Hartsock’s punishment, it was decided to reduce chief’s suspension to three days without pay after accepting his claim that he couldn’t remember whether he had replied to Bucher’s racial slur.
“This is the type of behavior that the Village of Delta will not stand for, and that’s why the actions (were) taken…because it is a violation of the village policy,” Gilbert said.
Peebles and Council President Frank Wilton declined to comment.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.