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A former West Jordan police officer who took the city to court after enduring a decade of harassment and subsequent retaliation for his labor and sexual harassment complaint with the state said he feels "vindicated" now that a federal jury has awarded him nearly $3 million in damages.
The jury found the city had maliciously prosecuted and retaliated against Aaron D. Jensen, who sued West Jordan in Salt Lake City's U.S. District Court in 2012, after he filed a 2008 labor and sexual harassment complaint with the state.
After an eight-day trial, the jury Wednesday sided with Jensen on each of five claims alleged in the civil-rights lawsuit, Jensen said Thursday.
The total awarded to Jensen for economic and noneconomic damages is $2.77 million, his attorney, April Hollingsworth, said in an email to The Salt Lake Tribune.
"I was and am still in shock," Jensen said of the verdict. "I can't comprehend what $2.77 million is. But it isn't about the money. It's about the vindication."
In a statement, West Jordan officials said the city respects the jury's decision but believes the case is "far from over."
"At this point, the city will be consulting with its attorneys to consider all options," City Attorney David R. Brickey said. "These options include requesting the judge to review the jury's conclusion and asking him to set aside the jury's verdict, as well as exploring other appeal options."
Hollingsworth said at a Thursday news conference at the state Capitol that an appeal would be a continued "waste of taxpayer money," and Jensen said he wished that the city would take responsibility rather than appeal.
Jensen said the city has no legal standing to appeal his case but told The Tribune he expects the case will go on for another nine months to a year if it appeals.
Jensen went to work for the West Jordan Police Department in 1996, court papers say. Within a year, he became a target of a hostile work environment, including crude jokes and comments alleging he was gay. The treatment encouraged others on the force to do the same, court papers say, and continued after Jensen married in 2003.
Jensen said at the news conference that his superiors within the police department were not responsive to his complaints, which he asserted was "indicative of a larger culture" within West Jordan City Hall.
As a result of the treatment, Jensen said he suffered stress, depression and panic attacks, according to court papers.
The Utah Labor Commission facilitated resolution of the case with the city and Jensen in 2009, and the city awarded him an $80,000 settlement that included an agreement that he would resign from the police department.
Under the agreement, the department also agreed not to retaliate against Jensen. But soon afterward, the city launched a criminal investigation in which Jensen was charged with felony drug and misuse of public funds charges.
The allegations led to Jensen's new employer firing him in May 2010, court papers say.
Two of three charges brought against Jensen by Salt Lake County prosecutors were dismissed after a preliminary hearing. Jensen was headed for trial on the third count misuse of public funds. Due to a conflict, the remaining charge was transferred to Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings for consideration.
Rawlings dismissed the case and said in a letter to the Salt Lake County district attorney's office that he believed "the basis and manner of the initial investigation and referral by the West Jordan Police Department was so problematic in nature, combined with the lack of credible evidence, that it made the case un-prosecutable."
Despite the dismissal, Jensen told The Tribune he has been unable to keep steady employment because West Jordan has told his prospective employers that he is a drug dealer and a thief.
In addition, an investigation by the Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, which regulates the state's police, prevented Jensen from obtaining a new job in law enforcement, he said. Though he said at the news conference that allegations have since been expunged, he said he believed no administration would take a chance on him in its police department again.
That's something the jury verdict can't fix, he said.
"No matter what amount of money they awarded me, I would give every penny of it back and more to go back into law enforcement," he said, "and to have my life back have my family back."
As a result of West Jordan's persecution, Jensen said he suffered severe bouts of post-traumatic stress disorder and lost his marriage, his home and most of his possessions.
"Every piece of property we had, we sold," he said. "By the time I was kicked out of my house, because of foreclosure, I didn't have even have more than $20 worth of anything to my name."
Jensen said he is currently unemployed but has returned to school to pursue a degree in computer engineering.