Kennett Township supervisors voted Wednesday to fire the township police chief, who was investigated by the Dauphin County District Attorney’s office for a sexual assault allegation but ultimately not charged, and who was the subject of an internal township investigation as a result.
The supervisors also voted to make the police department’s second-in-command, Sgt. Matthew Gordon, the interim chief.
Chief Lydell Nolt had been on paid administrative leave since Nov. 20, 2019, when he told township Manager Eden Ratliff about the investigation, according to supervisors’ Chairman Richard Leff. The township “engaged specialists in police law and employment and conducted its own investigation into the conduct of Nolt during the alleged incident and during his tenure as chief of police,” according to a press release Ratliff issued.
Leff said Wednesday that the township’s investigation determined that “sufficient evidence existed to establish that he violated the Pennsylvania Police Tenure Act, which governs, among other things, the dismissal of officers in townships of the second-class.”
“The investigation found sufficient evidence that would recommend termination,” Leff said, explaining that part of the Pennsylvania Police Tenure Act deals with “inefficiency, neglect, temperament, disobedience of orders, or conduct unbecoming an officer.”
The supervisors found out in December that Nolt, who had been police chief since July 15, 2015, would not be charged.
The chief was offered the chance to resign but turned it down, Leff said. When asked by a resident if there was a behavior issue, Leff replied affirmatively.
Ratliff explained to the audience, which packed the township’s meeting room, that the burden of proof for an internal investigation was different than for a criminal investigation.
“These situations are awful,” Ratliff said. “They’re awful when they begin – you don’t know where they’re going to go. As you begin to have the investigation, they’re complicated, and there are a lot of state laws in place.
“This is certainly an outcome none of us expected.”
The supervisors expressed their shock at the situation.
“This is horribly disappointing,” said supervisors’ Vice Chairman Whitney Hoffman.
“I’m very disappointed that someone we looked up to with the highest regard has purported himself with conduct unbecoming an officer,” Supervisor Scudder Stevens said.
Residents had wondered where Nolt had gone, raising his absence at a special township meeting in December and on social media. On Jan. 27, Ratliff issued a statement about Nolt being “part of an ongoing personnel investigation that has not reached finality … when a final determination on Chief Nolt’s status is made, the board of supervisors and I will promptly report to the public and the media.”
One of the residents at Wednesday’s meeting asked if Nolt was on paid or unpaid leave. Ratliff told him that it was paid leave.
“That’s because the process to put an officer on unpaid leave would take just as much time as this investigation,” he said.
Ever since Nov. 20, when Nolt informed the township about the investigation, Sgt. Gordon has been acting as the chief in Nolt’s absence. Wednesday’s vote made him the official interim chief.
“Matt is an excellent police officer with 32 years of experience in the county,” Leff said, citing Gordon’s work with the Chester County SWAT team and his past as a Chester County detective, among other things. “The safety of our residents is in good hands with Matt and our police force.”
Ratliff said he expects the township will begin a search for a new chief at some point but added that there are currently several police-chief searches ongoing in the county.
“We’ll take it slow,” he said.