Kansas Highway Patrol leader will step down after pressure from Republican lawmakers

Kansas Highway Patrol Superintendent Herman Jones will step down this summer, Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly announced Wednesday after months of Republican pressure to force out Jones, who faces a federal lawsuit alleging harassment.

Jones, a former Shawnee County sheriff with 45 years of law enforcement experience, was appointed by Kelly in 2019 after she forced out the previous superintendent. The leadership change occurs as the Highway Patrol, like many law enforcement agencies, has struggled with staffing challenges during Jones’ tenure.

The announcement may short-circuit a proposal to bring the Highway Patrol under the authority of Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach. Some Republican lawmakers, including state Sen. J.R. Claeys, a Salina Republican and advisor to Kobach, had put forward the idea to ramp up pressure on Kelly to remove Jones.

Jones’ announcement also comes a week before Republicans were expected to begin holding legislative hearings investigating the Highway Patrol. Neither Kelly nor Jones referenced the controversy surrounding his leadership on Wednesday.

Jones told reporters that Kelly didn’t ask him to step down. He emphasized that the allegations against him were just that and said “the truth comes through the court system.”

“It was time for me to go,” Jones said when asked if the allegations played a role in his decision.

Kelly also announced the departure of Adjutant General David Weishar, who leads the Kansas National Guard. Weishaar will leave April 1. Jones will depart July 1.

“General Weishaar and Colonel Jones have together helped keep Kansans safe over the past several years, including during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Kelly said in a statement. “Both have overseen immense operations throughout our entire state during challenging times, and I am grateful for their service and dedication. I wish them the best in their retirements.”

Jones has faced opposition from both inside and outside the Highway Patrol for years. He has been sued by five women, all current or former Highway Patrol employees, who allege a hostile work environment, a culture of sexual harassment and gender discrimination at the agency under his leadership.

“I’m grateful that the governor chose to go this route,” Claeys said. “I think it’s important for Kansans to have a superintendent that they can trust and that will do the job.”

The allegations against Jones include touching women on the back or shoulder and sending messages of a sexual nature, according to the women’s legal complaint.

Attorneys for Jones and other Highway Patrol employees who have been sued by the women have said in court filings that the claims should be dismissed and that they have not lost wages or promotions. They emphasize that one investigation conducted by the state found no sexual harassment and that another, conducted at Kelly’s behest, found no violations of Highway Patrol policies or the law.

Attorneys for the women didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

Jones and the other defendants have moved for summary judgment in the lawsuit — asking a judge to rule without a full trial. Based on filing deadlines in the case, a decision on the motion before March is unlikely.

“It has been a sincere and distinct honor serving the citizens of Kansas as the Superintendent of the Kansas Highway Patrol,” Jones said in a statement. “It has been my endeavor to keep Kansas highways and communities safe. Through the support of Governor Kelly and the collaboration of many dedicated employees of the Kansas Highway Patrol, we have strived to maintain the integrity of this agency.”

Kelly didn’t immediately name a successor to Jones. Weishaar will be replaced by Brig. Gen. Michael Venerdi.

Claeys said he wants a new Highway Patrol superintendent that has the troopers’ trust, who would lead the agency effectively and is trusted within the building.

“I believe, as long as the next leader comes from the outside, I think there’s going to be a high probability that this agency will turn around quickly,” Claeys said.