You would fathom that in today’s climate of being sensitive to preferred pronouns, calling children “theybies” instead of boys or girls when they’re infants, or that using terms like “people of color” is the only way a Caucasian can describe a non-white individual, that a police captain would know better than to refer to a sergeant as “fruity” when speaking in regard to their sexual orientation.
Well, you would think that; however, there’s always one maverick amid the pack to supply a shocker here and there. Well that renegade, in this case, just might have cost the county of St. Louis a chunk of change to the tune of $20 million dollars.
This past Friday, a jury agreed with a St. Louis County police sergeant who alleged that his department had discriminated against him because he is gay. The jury had decided that the department should pay Sergeant Keith Wildhaber nearly $20 million.
The week-long trial included testimony about Sergeant Keith Wildhaber being passed over 23 times for promotion. That as well as being transferred to the Jennings precinct from the Affton precinct after filing an EEOC complaint, which per Sergeant Keith Wildhaber was an unrequested and even protested transfer.
The jury deliberated for about three hours before awarding Sergeant Keith Wildhaber a sum to the tune of $20 million dollars after taking into consideration punitive and other forms of damages.
It should also be noted that the jury had exceeded what was being sought in the suit.
While the jury went unnamed during subsequent interviews, they were not shy about their reasoning behind the awarded sum as juror number 4 stated:
“We wanted to send a message. If you discriminate you are going to pay a big price. … You can’t defend the indefensible.”
What could be considered the most damaging of evidence against the department came courtesy of some juxtaposed testimony between a woman by the name of Donna Woodland and Captain Guy Means.
The later one was key in handling Sergeant Keith Wildhaber’s potential promotions. The former was key in toting a backstory inundated with stronger, tangible pieces of evidence that likely carried this case to its respective outcome.
Woodland, the widow of a former county police officer and girlfriend of a current officer, had testified during the trial that police Captain Guy Means had called Wildhaber “fruity” when they were both attending an event in 2015.
She said Means had told her Wildhaber would never be promoted because he was “way too out there with his gayness and he needed to tone it down if he wanted a white shirt”, an expression referring to the adornments of a promoted individual.
Captain Guy Means had testified that he didn’t know Donna Woodland and that he would not be able to pick her out of the jury box if she was sitting there.
But when Woodland had produced a photo booth array of three pictures featuring her and Means hugging at the event she mentioned, at that point his testimony clearly didn’t resonate with the jurors. Not to mention, she also produced the $147 receipt for a framed photo of Captain Guy Means, whom she considered a friend, and had seen that very picture hanging in his office.
Wildhaber’s attorney, Russ Riggan, told the jury:
“The county should be ashamed. Our community deserves better.”
Riggan later told the jury during closing arguments that the decision would have “far-reaching” implications for gay and other marginalized people, showing that discrimination in the workplace is unacceptable.
The final nail in the coffin that was provided happened to be from police Chief Jon Belmar, stating in his testimony that Wildhaber’s lawsuit had been a factor in denying him promotions.
While Chief Belmar also claimed in his testimony that Wildhaber was also denied previous advancements due to the possibility of tipping of persons of interest in other investigations as well as previous suspensions due to insufficient reporting protocols, it was clear what resonated for all in the jury. Still, in his testimony, Belmar said he had not punished Wildhaber for being gay, nor quashed his promotion.
At this time the County Counselor Beth Orwick said Friday night that county officials “will be exploring all of our legal options this weekend and we are going to do what’s best for the county.”
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Let’s provide some context on the sum of money.
$20 million. That’s how much the family of a woman who was shot to death after she called 911 to report a possible rape is going to get.
In May, former Officer Mohamed Noor was found guilty by a jury in the death of 40-year-old Justine Damond.
The settlement was announced by Mayor Jacob Frey and city council members, who described it as a way for the city to move on.
“This is not a victory for anyone, but rather a way for our city to move forward,” Frey said. “I do believe that we will move forward together, united in the shared belief that such a tragedy should never occur in our city.”
Here’s what happened. Damond, who was a dual citizen of the United States and Australia, called police in 2017 to report a possible rape near her home.
Noor and his partner were driving down the alley behind where she lived and were checking out the call.
Noor testified in court that a loud bang on the patrol car scared his partner. When he saw a woman raise her arm at the partner’s window, he fired his weapon. He said he was trying to protect his partner from what he thought was a threat.
As soon as charges were filed against him, Noor lost his job with the police department. On Tuesday, he was found guilty of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The jury did not find him guilty of second-degree murder.
Initially, the woman’s family sued for more than $50 million, claiming her civil rights had been violated.
The family’s attorney, Bob Bennett, said the settlement was accepted all around.
He said “that it required good faith negotiations on everyone’s part,” and added his clients were only interested in a settlement “if the amount of the settlement itself was transformational.”
“So this is an unmistakable message to change the Minneapolis Police Department in ways that will help all its communities,” he said.
The money will be paid by the city’s self-insurance fund. The settlement calls for Damond’s family to donate $2 million to a local foundation’s fund aimed at addressing gun violence.
After the verdict was read, Noor was taken straight from the courtroom into the custody of the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Dept. He will be sentenced on June 7.
In his defense, Noor’s attorneys said he had reacted to a loud noise that he thought was an ambush. But prosecutors said there was no evidence that he faced a threat that justified deadly force.
During the trial, body camera footage was played. It showed the woman’s final moments along with the officers’ unsuccessful attempts to save her.
One of the body cameras showed Noor and his partner taking turns performing CPR on her until firefighters arrived. The other showed Noor being taken to a supervisor squad car.
Officer Mark Ringgenberg said in court that Noor kept asking if Damond was OK.
“I just told [Noor] not to say anything,” Ringgenberg said. “I don’t remember specifics.”
In a statement, the Somali-American Police Association (SAPA) criticized the jury’s decision to convict Noor.
“Officer Noor is the first police officer in Minnesota’s history to be convicted of murder while in the line of duty,” the statement read. “SAPA believes the institutional prejudices against people of color, including officers of color, have heavily influenced the verdict of this case. The aggressive manner in which the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office went after Officer Noor reveals that there were other motives at play other than serving justice.”
They say it will have a negative impact on officers across America.
“SAPA fears the outcome of this case will have a devastating effect on police morale and make the recruitment of minority officers all the more difficult.”