SALT LAKE CITY — A former West Jordan police sergeant would readily give up the nearly $3 million a federal jury awarded him Wednesday to not have gone through years of hell for raising sexual harassment allegations against his superiors.
Aaron D. Jensen says he was suicidal "more times than I care to admit" since criminal charges were filed against him in retaliation for a Utah Labor Commission complaint he settled in 2009.
Words, he said, can't describe the depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder he suffered after being forced to resign after 12 years with West Jordan police and being arrested for what he and his attorney say were bogus crimes.
"We had nothing. We lost everything because of this. I lost everything because of this," said Jensen, the father of an 8-year-old son. "My marriage wasn’t strong enough to handle this, and frankly, I’m not sure that anybody’s marriage could have handled this."
Jensen, who turns 42 on Saturday, filed a lawsuit against West Jordan in 2012, describing in graphic detail crude comments and gay-themed jokes he says supervisors directed at him. The suit also claimed the police department pursued criminal charges against him in retaliation for the labor commission case he settled for $80,000 in exchange for his resignation and dropping the complaint.
After a 10-day trial in U.S. District Court, a jury late Wednesday sided with Jensen and awarded him $2.7 million. Jurors found West Jordan liable for malicious prosecution, breach of contract and violation of Jensen's constitutional rights.
"Aaron deserves every bit of it and West Jordan deserves every bit of it," said Jensen's attorney, April Hollingsworth.
Jensen said it wasn't about money but about vindication.
"I would have traded every bit of that money that I had just been awarded to not have gone through what I'd gone through," he said.
West Jordan, which hired outside lawyers for the case, issued a statement saying it disagrees with and is "very disappointed" in the jury's decision and will file an appeal.
"At this point the city will be consulting with its attorney to consider all options," according to City Attorney David Brickey. "These options include asking 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."
The statement concludes saying, "This case is far from over."
During the trial, Judge Dale Kimball didn't allow testimony about the specific sexual harassment allegations because that claim was settled and he deemed it prejudicial.
But Hollingsworth argued that it was "simple retaliation by some bad-intentioned people." Jensen's supervisors had it out for him because they couldn't stand that he stood up against them about their behavior and called them out, she said.
"From the day I hired on with West Jordan, I was the victim of some extremely inappropriate sexual harassment. I complained about it dozens of times. Nothing was done about it. It got worse and worse to the point where I couldn’t handle it," Jensen said.
Jensen said a comment a senior police administrator made to him after his wife lost a baby three months into her pregnancy in January 2007 put him over the edge.
"I had told him how difficult it was losing this child and his comment to me was, 'That's because I was over (having sex with) your wife last night and I must have" injured the baby.
Jensen said it's the only time his life that he wanted to be violent. "I wanted to punch him," he said.
In August 2008, Jensen announced that his wife was pregnant again. "The baby can't be yours. We all know that you're gay," a police lieutenant said to him, according to the lawsuit.
West Jordan police started a criminal investigation of Jensen the day his sexual harassment complaint was settled in April 2009, Hollingsworth said. A year later, the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office charged him with drug distribution and misuse of public money.
The charges accused him of releasing a man from jail with less than half the $1,239 he was due. He also was accused of buying cocaine and heroin from two men while he was off duty, telling them he wouldn't arrest them if they would work as drug informants.
All three felony charges were later dismissed.
Jensen said he's learned through the case that "justice isn't as clear as what it seems to be."
He said he hasn't held a steady job because of his inability to cope with the simplest of tasks, but is a year away from a computer engineering degree. He "absolutely" wants to get back into law enforcement but doubts any police agency would take a chance on him.
"What I take from this is that a lot of times you can’t undo something that’s done. When I was arrested, my face was everywhere as this dirty cop. A lot of people saw that. Some people will see this. They will believe it or they won't believe it," he said.
"I will deal with that for the rest of my life."