This story has been updated with coverage from Monday night's Select Board meeting in Williamstown.

WILLIAMSTOWN — The chair of the Williamstown Select Board disclosed Monday that her panel was caught off-guard by a police sergeant's allegations of sexual harassment and racial discrimination in the town's Police Department.

Jane Patton said that she and her colleagues learned of those claims with the Aug. 12 filing of a federal lawsuit, though the town officially had responded to the same charges earlier this year, after they were placed by Sgt. Scott McGowan before the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

The revelation renewed calls late Monday afternoon by members of the town's anti-discrimination committee for the two men named in the MCAD complaint and the lawsuit, Police Chief Kyle Johnson and Town Manager Jason Hoch, to be placed on administrative leave.

Further calls for that step came when the Select Board later opened a video session to public comment on the issue for the first time since McGowan's lawsuit was filed.

"It raises other troubling questions," Andrew Art, a member of the Diversity, Inclusion and Racial Equity Committee, said at his panel's meeting. He described the many ways in which routine business involving the Police Department are presented to members of the Select Board.

"This complaint never was flagged at all," Art said. "There is a leadership question. The conflict-of-interest question comes into play. The only investigation has been done by the people named as defendants."

McGowan claims that Johnson, about 2007, sexually assaulted male and female officers by repeatedly rubbing his groin against them. The complaint also cites ongoing racially discriminatory actions by Johnson and others, including use of derogatory language and harassment of a Black officer.

Patton, in a session with the DIRE before Monday night's Select Board meeting, responded to a question phoned in from the public about whether her board should have been briefed about the complaint involving the Police Department.

"Would it have been better" if the board was informed? Patton asked. "I think that's obvious. It feels to me like, yes, OK? But, it wasn't. And now we're trying to deal with that."

"Just when you think 2020 can't get worse. And then there's this," Patton said of the situation, which was on the agenda for the Select Board meeting later Monday.

Aruna D'Souza, a member of the DIRE committee, said she believes that Patton's disclosure about the board not being aware of the MCAD complaint provides new grounds for Hoch and Johnson to be put on leave. The DIRE panel has urged the board to consider whether it should consider placing the officials on leave. The board has not taken that action.

"It needs to be taken seriously by the Select Board," D'Souza said.

"There's more questions now than there ever were before," said DIRE member Jeffrey Johnson. "We can't move forward until there's trust."

At the Select Board meeting, members listened through a Zoom connection as residents expressed anger over the allegations of harassment and bias in the suit, which included claims that a dispatcher used an anti-Black epithet when a Black student from Williams College was visiting the station.

Bilal Ansari assailed the fact that the dispatcher remains a town employee.

"There is someone who has in their heart hatred," he said.

Hoch did not take part, as he normally does, in the Select Board proceeding. Patton said he was on a previously scheduled vacation. Board members listened but did not comment on the remarks from residents.

"We want to know the temperature of the town on this issue," Patton said. She said the issue has been "incredibly challenging" for the entire community.

Arlene Kirsch said she is "beyond furious and beyond terrified" by the fact that an officer in the department had displayed a photograph of Adolf Hitler in a locker area.

"The man who ordered the murder of my grandparents," Kirsch said. 

Rachel Payne echoed comments by many when she told the board that she believes Hoch and Chief Johnson should be placed on leave.

"Right now, they do not have credibility," she said. "This is an emergency, and we need to act as a community."

Anthony Boskovich, who identified himself as an attorney, recited the background of the MCAD case initially filed by McGowan, a complaint that the Select Board was not made aware of. 

"You don't need any time to decide what happens to Jason Hoch," he told the board. "When are you going to tell us what you're going to do?"

"Make it right, and make us feel safe," resident Jessica Dils told the board.

Larry Parnass can be reached at 413-588-8341 or lparnass@berkshireeagle.com.