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A Cop Escapes His Toxic Boss — and Gets Arrested as Payback

For more than a decade, according to a lawsuit, Aaron Jensen was the target of taunts about his supposed sexual orientation.

While serving as a police officer in West Jordan City, Utah, Mr. Jensen was baited constantly by his supervisor Dan Gallagher, who rose from a corporal to a captain over the period, according to court documents. Mr. Jensen didn’t fit into the department’s noxious locker-room atmosphere, the suit claims, so Mr. Gallagher called the young recruit “gay” — the older man’s idea of an amusing insult.

Among Mr. Gallagher’s gibes, according to testimony: That Mr. Jensen’s girlfriend was a “front”; that his later marriage was a cover-up; and that Mr. Jensen’s unborn son couldn’t be his because, as he told any officers within earshot, “we all know that you’re gay.”

Like an old-style teen bully, Mr. Gallagher would swat Mr. Jensen in the genitals, embarrass him by showing him gay pornography, and even play obscene pranks during duty calls, Mr. Jensen said in a written statement that was filed in court. Although Mr. Jensen resisted the harassment — once loudly at a staff meeting — he feared “brutal retaliation”: When the two men had clashed over a different matter, the volatile Mr. Gallagher threatened to “ruin” Mr. Jensen’s career, according to the lawsuit.

In the end, Mr. Jensen’s worst fears came true. After filing a formal complaint with Utah authorities and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Mr. Jensen settled with West Jordan City for $80,000. He resigned as part of the deal, and the city agreed not to retaliate.

Just a year later, however, Mr. Jensen was arrested on felony charges resulting from an internal investigation that started on the day of his resignation. According to a complaint filed by Mr. Jensen, the criminal probe was egged on by Mr. Gallagher, who “contrived evidence” against his former subordinate.

All the criminal charges were dismissed — indeed, Mr. Jensen’s record was expunged — but not before he was fired from a new job, tarred as a suspected drug dealer.

Dan Gallagher is our new Bad Boss of the Month.

Mr. Jensen ultimately sued West Jordan City, Mr. Gallagher, and another police supervisor; among other things he claimed retaliation, malicious prosecution, and breach of contract. In June a federal jury told the city to pay Mr. Jensen more than $2.75 million in damages.

The city has requested a new trial or, alternatively, a reduction of the award. Mr. Gallagher and the other individual defendant were dismissed from the case.

According to his lawsuit, Mr. Jensen’s long battle with the West Jordan City police started with Mr. Gallagher’s nonstop homophobic “jokes,” which spread throughout the department as other officers and even high-ranking supervisors played along with the ringleader’s bullying.

Mr. Jensen said he found derisive notes in his office; once, during a staff presentation, he stepped out of the room and returned to see “You’re gay!” projected on the wall, his colleagues sniggering. For Mr. Jensen, a victim of childhood sexual trauma, the relentless abuse left him “feeling like that 12-year-old child again.”

The harassment spread beyond work: According to documents, Mr. Gallagher directly told Mr. Jensen’s wife-to-be that she was a beard — and colleagues who attended the wedding joked about Mr. Jensen’s orientation in the couple’s wedding video.

After a ceremony in which Mr. Jensen was promoted to sergeant, he recalled in the statement filed in court, the chief of police greeted his wife and several close family members by saying, “For years we thought he was gay, so it was good to see him finally get married.”

A respite away from Mr. Gallagher followed, but Mr. Jensen was transferred back to the then-lieutenant’s direct supervision. During their first staff meeting, by Mr. Jensen’s account, Mr. Gallagher welcomed his return because, he said, every unit needed its own Brokeback Mountain — a reference to the 2005 movie about gay love.

Some comments were more cruel than others. After Mr. Jensen’s wife suffered a miscarriage, Mr. Gallagher asked how things were going; Mr. Jensen said they were trying to get pregnant again, but hadn’t had any luck. Mr. Gallagher crudely offered to do Mr. Jensen’s part, according to Mr. Jensen’s statement.

Matters reached a breaking point when the men argued about where certain cases should be assigned. “You need to remember who you are,” said Mr. Gallagher, according to Mr. Jensen’s statement. “Your career is done, got that? … We’ll see who wins this battle when your life is miserable.”

“[Mr.] Gallagher was very — very controlling, very vindictive,” said Reed Motzkus, a lieutenant in the department, in a deposition. “[He] had a reputation for going after … anybody who would confront him or challenge him in any way.”

Before long there were two investigations afoot: An internal-affairs probe opened by Mr. Gallagher, who questioned whether Mr. Jensen was handling cases properly, and a review triggered by Mr. Jensen’s state and federal harassment complaints — frightened by Mr. Gallagher’s inquiry, Mr. Jensen had finally taken legal action.

Mr. Jensen was placed on leave pending the outcome. He didn’t go back to his office after that — but when he resigned as part of the settlement, about six months later, co-workers who cleaned the room came across an envelope with several balloons of heroin and the drivers’ licenses of two people Mr. Jensen had arrested.

Rather than treating the discovery as an oversight or loose end, the police department handed the matter over to the Salt Lake County district attorney’s office for criminal investigation. According to a deposition from Lohra Miller, then the D.A., both Mr. Gallagher and the police chief were “quite insistent” that she should act on the case.

Travis Rees, another lieutenant on the force, called the criminal case against Mr. Jensen “bull***t.” “I felt like the facts were being manipulated to make things look worse than they were,” he said in a deposition.

And who would manipulate facts?

“Dan Gallagher,” testified Mr. Rees, adding that Mr. Gallagher had a vendetta against Mr. Jensen.

“My understanding was, you know, … Aaron filed a complaint,” Mr. Rees said in his deposition. “Gallagher’s M.O. was if you push back against him, you’re — you know, it’s a done deal. He’s going to come at you hard.”

Mr. Jensen had been moving between jobs since resigning from the police force, including a gig at a local guitar store. After his arrest, which featured a charge of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance, he was fired from that position.

Already battling depression and panic attacks after more than a decade of harassment — and with personal issues, besides — Mr. Jensen became more distraught and contemplated suicide, feeling “hopeless, helpless and worthless.” His marriage had fallen apart, along with his finances, but he kept fighting for his reputation.

After a preliminary hearing, two of the three criminal charges were dismissed. The remaining charge was dismissed the following year — and right around then, his nemesis Mr. Gallagher retired from the West Jordan City police department. Mr. Jensen’s entire record, from arrest onward, was ultimately expunged.

Although the jury vindicated him with its verdict of retaliation and malicious prosecution, the case isn’t over and Mr. Jensen still feels like damaged goods. He’d like to work again as a cop, he says, but believes it’ll never happen.

» Read Mr. Jensen’s original complaint (Note: Strong sexual and scatological content)
» See a post-trial TV interview with Mr. Jensen and his attorney

The Employment Law Group® law firm was not involved in Jensen v. City of West Jordan. We select “Bad Boss” cases to illustrate the continuing relevance of employee protection laws for our newsletter’s audience, which includes attorneys and former TELG clients.

During this case, Mr. Jensen was represented by Hollingsworth Law Office LLC.

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