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Exclusive interview with jury foreman in discrimination case against St. Louis County

"The county ought to be glad the number stopped at $20 million"

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — The jury foreman in the Lt. Keith Wildhaber case kept such meticulous notes during the five-day trial that he ran out of ink. St. Louis County Chief Jon Belmar quickly responded, handing him a pen.

It was a moment of levity during the October 2019 trial in which Wildhaber alleged that he was passed over for promotions because he is gay.

The foreman’s penchant for detail when it comes to this case hasn’t ceased in the months that have followed the jury’s nearly $20 million verdict against the county police department.

He clipped articles. Watched television reports. And listened to radio discussions for months, glued to every turn in the fallout from the case.

In an exclusive interview with 5 On Your Side, the foreman shared his thoughts on how the county has handled the matter, what it was like to be in the jury room and his hopes for Wildhaber and the county police department going forward. 

He did not want his face shown or his name used, saying he wants to maintain his privacy.

But he said he has grown tired of staying silent – just like he did during the trial.

He noted how evenly the jury was divided by race, gender and age.

“This jury was America,” he said. “And this was our police department, they work for us.

"The county ought to be glad the number stopped at $20 million. It could have been a lot higher. We knew it was our own money. We pay taxes. But we have to take care of our police officers."

Wildhaber filed his lawsuit in 2017. Weeks later, he was transferred to a precinct further away from his home and put on the midnight shift, so he added a retaliation claim to his suit.

Jurors heard testimony from Wildhaber and other officers at trial that a move like that was known internally as a “geography lesson.”

But some of the most troubling testimony, the foreman said, came from Belmar and the commanders who took the stand suggesting Wildhaber asked to be transferred, accused Wildhaber of being a racist as well as tipping off a bookie that the feds were onto him.

“It was the most impressive lineup of liars I’ve ever seen in my life,” the foreman said. “It was very difficult for me to control myself because I sensed that a great injustice had occurred to an American hero.

“He is an Army veteran. And he won a Medal of Valor for pulling someone out of a burning vehicle. Do you think the person he saved from the car gave a rat’s (expletive) that he was gay?”

The most jaw-dropping moment at trial came when Capt. Guy Means denied even knowing a woman who testified that he told her Wildhaber was “too fruity,” to get promoted during a fundraising event, the foreman said. 

He told jurors he couldn’t pick Donna Woodland out of the jury box if she were sitting there and didn’t recall ever attending the event in question. The next day, Woodland returned to the stand with a picture of she and Means hugging and laughing together in a photo booth at the event.

“I even asked the bailiff how many times he’s seen a Perry Mason type of moment like that, and he told me, ‘Rarely,’” the foreman said.

When it came time for deliberations, the foreman said the jurors were unanimous in voting in Wildhaber’s favor within the first 15 to 30 minutes of their three-hour deliberation. They spent the rest of the time estimating the amount, and how the state’s tort law would apply to the punitive damages. In Missouri, half of any punitive damages awarded in a case must go toward the state’s Crime Victim’s Compensation Fund.

The foreman said he purposely asked the judge for a calculator early in the deliberations to send a signal to the county’s attorneys and Belmar that the case was not going to go in their favor.

"The county treated this as a nuisance lawsuit and that came across on day one," the foreman said. "The county's attorney used the word 'baggage' three times when talking about Wildhaber and we all felt that there seemed to be a code language among the white shirts. 

"One of the sergeants said he 'threw a fit,' and was 'dramatic,' and 'surrounded himself with people that looked like him,'" the foreman said. "One of the jurors said, 'You don't talk that way about a man.' Their implicit bias was really showing." 

The fallout from the verdict started almost immediately.

St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell announced he would be launching an investigation into whether any county officers perjured themselves on the stand. County Executive Sam Page replaced four of the five members of the St. Louis County Police Board of Commissioners, which hires and fires the chief. 

And, last week, Wildhaber reached a preliminary agreement with the county to settle the case – avoiding having to share half of the money with the state and saving the county millions. The amount of the settlement has not yet been made public, but the foreman said he expected Wildhaber would settle.

"As long as he's happy with the amount, then I'm happy," the foreman said.

He said he remains divided on how the county should deal with Belmar, saying the verdict shouldn't serve as his only legacy, but that it will stay with it forever.

He said he has watched as St. Louis County Executive Sam Page has voiced his support for the chief, telling an audience of business leaders at a fundraiser, “He’s not a quitter, he’s a leader.” And he's grown increasingly frustrated at Page's reluctance to say whether Prop P funds will be used to pay the settlement.

"The voters didn't intend this to be a slush fund to take care of their dirt," he said. 

He also wonders what is taking so long for Bell’s office to finish the perjury investigation.

"I'm shocked that some of them still have jobs," he said.

Watch 5 On Your Side's Christine Byers' complete report at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. - St. Louis County has reached a preliminary agreement to settle a discrimination lawsuit with a gay police lieutenant, a source told 5 On Your Side. The deal comes after a jury awarded Lt. Keith Wildhaber nearly $20 million following a five-day trial in October 2019.

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