Kennett Township supervisors fire Police Chief Lydell Nolt
● By Richard Gaw
After conducting an independent investigation, the Kennett Township Board of Supervisors voted unanimously at their Feb. 5 meeting to terminate Lydell Nolt from his position as the township's police chief for actions stemming from a sexual assault allegation against him.
As provided in detail by board chairman Dr. Richard Leff to an overflow audience at the Kennett Township Building, Nolt was placed on administrative leave on Nov. 20, 2019 after he informed Township Manager Eden Ratliff that he was the subject of a criminal investigation by the Dauphin County (Pa.) District Attorney’s office concerning a sexual assault allegation, which has been reported to have occurred at the Hotel Hershey between April 14 and April 17, 2019, when Nolt was part of a contingent of township staff and supervisors who attended the PSATS Annual Educational Conference and Trade show, held at the Hershey Lodge and Convention Center.
Leff said that the township was notified at the end of December that no formal charges were being filed against Nolt.
During its investigation, the township engaged specialists in police law and employment, who determined that sufficient evidence existed to establish that Nolt had violated the Police Tenure Act, which governs the behavior of police officers, and regulates the suspension, removal, furloughing and reinstatement of police officers in boroughs, townships and regional police departments.
The Act, originally passed in the Pa. Senate in 1951 and amended in 2008, allows for the dismissal of a police officer if the officer exhibits “inefficiency, neglect, intemperance, disobedience of orders, or conduct unbecoming an officer.” After the supervisors thoroughly reviewed the information provided by the independent investigation, Nolt was given the opportunity to resign but he chose not to do so.
“I am very disappointed that somebody I looked up to with the highest regard and respect has comported himself with behavior unbecoming of an officer,” said board member Scudder Stevens. “I made the motion with great sadness, but with great resolution that it is necessary and appropriate.”
“It is heartbreaking,” added board member Whitney Hoffman.
“These situations are awful,” Ratliff said. “They’re awful when they begin because you don’t know where they are going to go. They are complicated, and they take time for a lot of state laws to be followed. We appreciate the patience of the community who have been asking about the status of this investigation. This is certainly nothing that any of us expected.”
Ratliff was asked if the details of the investigation’s findings into Nolt’s alleged actions that may have led to the sexual assault allegation would become available.
“At this point, the township has provided -- in my opinion and the opinion of the township’s labor attorney -- a great deal of information to the public, by revealing that there was a criminal complaint, that charges were not filed, by revealing what county it took place in, and by providing information about what the nature of [this allegation] is,” he said. “All of that is more than what our labor attorney would have liked us to have said. They would have preferred that we say that it was an employment investigation that was disciplinary in nature that has led to the recommendation of termination,[and that the township has] no further comment at this time.
“We have said a lot more than that,” Ratliff continued, “because we are frankly redefining our transparency to the public, and we want you to have as much information as we can reasonably provide, and I think we’ve done a good job, much to the back and forth of our attorneys.”
On Feb. 3, Nolt was scheduled to attend a meeting before township officials at the Township Building, but did not report. Known as a “Loudermill” hearing, it is part of the Police Tenure Act that requires that due process must be provided to a public employee to present his or her side of an issue before an employer renders a final decision on discipline. Instead, Nolt issued officials a written report.
Nolt’s termination ended a five-year tenure that began on July 15, 2015, when he was sworn in before the township's board of supervisors, township residents and his family. In an interview with the Chester County Press soon after his hiring, Nolt expressed his desire to grow the department by hiring more officers, advancing in the area of technology and championing the concept of community policing. Among his achievements including adding the Crimewatch technology link onto the township’s website; equipping township police with body cameras; organizing several drug take-back events; and establishing relationships with area schools and neighborhoods, which included school visits and creating a strong presence at annual National Night Out celebrations in the Kennett Square Borough.
“This position allows me the privilege to put this agency and the integrity of that agency on display,” he said in 2015. “The biggest opportunity I have is for this agency to go into our community with the integrity that people demand, which is to be transparent and do the right things. It’s my responsibility to set up, transport that integrity into the community, and maintain that for the entirety of my tenure.”
At their Feb. 5 meeting, the supervisors appointed Sgt. Matthew J. Gordon as the township's acting police chief. Gordon, a law enforcement veteran with more than 30 years of experience, has been in charge of the township's police department since Nolt was placed on administrative leave.
“Matt is an excellent police officer with 32 years of experience in the county,” Leff said. “The safety of our residents is in good hands with Matt and our police force.”
Since 2016, Gordon has been responsible for overseeing the Patrol and Detective units of the Kennett Township force. He continues to be Deputy Commander of the Chester County Regional Emergency Response Team (SWAT). From 2010 until 2016, he was a detective with the Chester County District Attorney’s office as a member of the Chester County Detectives. He was part of both the Major Case Unit and Drug and Organized Crime Unit.
Gordon began his law enforcement career with Parkesburg police force as a patrol officer and then as lieutenant with the Coatesville City Police Department.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.