The head of Kentucky’s Juvenile Justice Department was fired last week after a months long personnel investigation into allegations that she had harassed, bullied and intimidated employees, leaving at least one in tears.
The ouster was confirmed Thursday when the administration of Gov. Andy Beshear (D) released an eight-page letter it had sent to Juvenile Justice Commissioner LaShana Harris, whom Beshear appointed to the post in late 2019.
Her dismissal took effect immediately upon delivery on March 23, although she has 30 days to appeal it.
“You are being dismissed from your position with cause because you have violated the Executive Branch policy statement on harassment prevention, the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet’s policy against harassment, the Department of Juvenile Justice’s anti-harassment policy and for lack of good behavior and unsatisfactory performance of duties,” the letter said.
Harris, in a Facebook message to the Lexington Herald-Leader, defended her tenure. “The personnel action is a result of an incomplete and partial investigation that unfairly impugns my character,” Harris wrote. “I served the Department of Juvenile Justice with integrity and diligence.”
In a statement last Thursday, Beshear said he trusted the investigative process, which was overseen by Personnel Cabinet Secretary Gerina Whethers.
Whethers’ letter to Harris said the commissioner had been on special investigative leave since late December so that allegations raised by several of her employees could be checked out. The Lexington newspaper had already reported her absence from her $150,000-a-year post, but the administration had not said why.
The letter said employees made their complaints via email, verbal reports, through a special anonymous channel, audio clips and the state employee grievance process.
The investigation confirmed 21 allegations but said that several others were unfounded, including sexual harassment.
Employees alleged that Harris had sometimes told workers she had “spies everywhere,” excluded from meetings people who should have attended and berated people in front of colleagues.
Senior administration officials met with Harris three times to discuss her management style, but she allegedly paid little heed.
Harris worked for the state for almost two decades. She was appointed to the job shortly after the departure of Carey Cockerell, a well-known juvenile justice reformer who once oversaw the Texas system and has been a longtime ally and consultant for Youth Advocate Programs, one of the nation’s largest providers of community-based alternatives to incarceration.