FOX4 Investigates: Whistleblowers say VA is ignoring troubling allegations

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FOX4 has learned of new developments and more troubling allegations at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Topeka and Leavenworth. These new claims come against the backdrop of similar and mounting complaints by employees at the VA hospital in Kansas City.

FOX4 sat down exclusively with three high-ranking police officers from the VA police departments, all who have filed whistleblower and other complaints alleging misconduct, racial discrimination, and sexual harassment.

They say the VA continues to ignore their concerns.

“I’ve been in law enforcement a long time for one guy, and one department singularly having that many investigations by the same exact individual reporting it– in law enforcement, we’ll call that a clue,” said Alex Harris, a police major at the Topeka VA hospital.

Harris says at the VA hospitals in Leavenworth and Topeka, these new and troubling complaints focus on one person: Police Chief Andrew Denning.

Denning joined the department in 2016 and rose to the top in one year, despite repeated and documented complaints regarding mistreatment of minority officers, abuse of authority and unlawful investigations.

“I believed as a manager and as a police officer that there was clear, impartial mistreatment going on towards us. As I highlighted numerous issues and wrongdoing, I’ve continued to get penalized,” said Harris.

Harris currently holds the title of police major at the VA hospital in Topeka, but he hasn’t worked in the department for more than a year.

He believes he’s being retaliated against because he’s filed numerous complaints alleging ongoing harassment and mistreatment by Chief Denning.

Harris also filed a memo citing 27 deficiencies within the department. He’s since had his badge and credentials removed, been re-assigned to the engineering department and the focus of 14 investigations that to date have uncovered no wrong-doing.

“I’ve had my badge and credits removed a total of five times,” said Topeka VA Training Sergeant, Brian Jones.

In one instance, Jones said Chief Denning removed his badge and credentials, re-instated them for one day to do training, then pulled them again.

“It’s a very touchy, emotional pain for me because being with the VA for years, I’ve never had to deal with this,” said Sgt. Jones.

This is a similar sentiment shared by VA Police Captain Roberto Feliciano, who says Chief Denning re-assigned him to the basement of a building after he filed complaints of privacy violations and workplace harassment.

Feliciano’s wife, Angela, the chief’s secretary, also filed a sexual harassment complaint against the chief after she says he invited her to a strip club. FOX4 obtained documents where Denning admits he made the invitation and agreed it is not appropriate behavior.

The VA ruled her complaint was “unsubstantiated.”

“If you look my paper it’s 10 years of outstanding,” said Feliciano. “I’m done. I’m tired of this going around and nobody doing nothing.”

FOX4 reached out to Chief Denning for comment, but he never responded. FOX4 also reached out to the VA they declined an interview but responded with a statement. It reads:

“Complaints are not facts, they are allegations. The Eastern Kansas VA Health Care System has investigated these claims and to date, has found them to be unsubstantiated.  We will continue to address any claims in the proper forum.

Chief Denning remains an important member of the Eastern Kansas Health Care System team. His leadership has improved the performance of the department resulting in two consecutive successful Office of Security and Law Enforcement (OSLE) inspections. As chief, Denning has promoted 11 VA Eastern Kansas police officers, more than half of whom are minorities.

Denning has also fostered strong relationships with community law enforcement agencies leading to several improvements, including VA police officers receiving a host of free training at local police academies.”

We also filed a federal open records request for complaints involving Denning. The department said it could “neither confirm nor deny” the existence of such records.

During the course of our investigation, we received documents from a VA source indicating Denning was terminated, effective August 15th.

The VA however, told us in a July 30th email that Denning remained a valuable member of its team.

“They do not want to acknowledge what he has done is at least reasonably wrong. That’s the problem,” said Harris.

According to Harris, since our interview with these whistleblowers, VA officials met with Harris.

He says they offered to clear his name and give him the equivalent of one paycheck, if he’d resign. He declined their offer.

The VA has declined an interview and sent a statement to FOX4. It reads: Complaints are not facts, they are allegations. The Eastern Kansas VA Health Care System has investigated these claims and to date, has found them to be unsubstantiated. We will continue to address any claims in the proper forum.

Chief Denning remains an important member of the Eastern Kansas Health Care System team. His leadership has improved the performance of the department resulting in two consecutive successful Office of Security and Law Enforcement (OSLE) inspections. As chief, Denning has promoted 11 VA Eastern Kansas police officers, more than half of whom are minorities.

Denning has also fostered strong relationships with community law enforcement agencies leading to several improvements, including VA police officers receiving a host of free training at local police academies.

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