ST. LOUIS • A white police sergeant who is president of the St. Louis Police Officers Association was awarded $620,000 in a reverse racial discrimination suit Wednesday.
A federal jury made the award to Sgt. David Bonenberger, who had sued in January 2012. The civil suit alleged that he was passed over for a leadership post at the city Police Academy. It claimed that academy director, Lt. Michael Muxo, told Bonenberger he shouldn’t bother to apply for the assistant director opening. Muxo told him that the job was going to a black woman, the suit said.
Muxo told Bonenberger that a higher-up, Lt. Col. Reggie Harris, wanted a black woman and wanted to “bring color down to the academy,” according to the suit.
Bonenberger applied but was not called for an interview.
The suit named the police department, the Police Board of Commissioners, Mayor Francis Slay and various other officials as defendants. They were defended by the Missouri attorney general’s office. An attorney for the defendants declined to comment Wednesday night. The police board’s general counsel could not be reached.
A spokesman for the St. Louis Police Department said the Board of Police Commissioners would be briefed today on the outcome of the lawsuit during a closed executive session of the board.
“At that time, the board will discuss the lawsuit and make recommendations regarding the next course of action,” the department said in a statement. “The department is not at liberty to discuss personnel matters.”
The all-white jury was out for four hours Wednesday afternoon before returning a verdict.
The jury awarded $200,000 in actual damages against all of the defendants for intentional race discrimination and $420,000 in punitive damages. The punitive damages were $100,000 against Muxo, $300,000 against Harris and $20,000 against then-Chief Dan Isom. Harris and Muxo were found to have conspired to commit discrimination.
After the verdict, Bonenberger said he was relieved and felt vindicated.
“It has been miserable going through this for the last three years, and finally it’s come to the end,” Bonenberger said. “The jury has seen that evidence presented clearly indicated that I was discriminated against and they (the police department) conspired to cover it up.”
Bonenberger said he hoped no other police employee would have to go through this and that others would not be “intimidated by members of the command rank to stand up when they’re illegally discriminated against or harassed. ... Hopefully this sends a clear message that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated and those responsible for it will indeed be held accountable.”
Angela Taylor, a black woman, was selected for the job over Bonenberger and another white candidate. Bonenberger’s attorney, Lynette Petruska, of Pleban and Petruska, said the suit was not directed against Taylor.
“Dave feels bad she was brought into this,” Petruska said. “He likes and respects Sergeant Taylor. ...He was not trying to challenge anything Sergeant Taylor did. He was trying to stop racial discrimination at the department. The question becomes, what’s the department going to do about this?”
Bonenberger, a sergeant in the department’s sixth district, holds various instructor certifications, became a field training officer in 1997 and was an instructor and academy class supervisor from 2008-2009, the suit says. He was elected president of the St. Louis Police Officers’ Association last year.