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Former Steele police officer awarded attorney's fees on discrimination suit

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A former Steele, MO police officer who sued the city for sexual discrimination and harassment has had her verdict upheld by the court on Dec. 30, and her attorney was awarded $154,678 in attorney fees. Beverly Alexander was awarded $95,000 in actual damages and $250,000 in punitive damages last July after a two day jury trial in New Madrid County in front of Judge Fred Copeland.

Alexander alleged and the jury agreed that she was discriminated against on the basis of her sex for the position of Chief of Police in Steele after the then Chief Michael Tomlinson was arrested on drug charges. Alexander’s won damages on both parts of her suit brought after then Mayor Mike Davis gave the job to Billy Joe Stanfield.

Alexander was represented by Attorneys Jerome Dobson and Meredith Berwick of the St. Louis area and the city of Steele was represented by Mary Boner, who was hired by the Spradling and Spradling in Cape Girardeau, MO when a conflict of interest was presented.

After the verdict, Dobson filed motions seeking attorney’s fees in the amount of $154,678. Boner submitted documents for her fees but asked that the court not release the amount. Boner also filed motions for a new trial, to have the verdict set aside and/or the damages reduced. A hearing was held on Nov. 8 in front of Judge Copeland where he took all motions under consideration and released his decision on Dec. 30, according to court records.

Judge Copeland ruled against the city of Steele on their motions to set aside or lower the verdict or to have a new trial. He ruled in favor of Alexander’s attorney for the total amount of the fees requested. This ruling brings the amount awarded in Alexander’s case to close to $500,000 as interest on the amount accrues monthly.

Alexander also alleged and the jury agreed that she was submitted to sexual harassment in the workplace. She stated that she was subjected to pornography on city computers and while officers testified that they individually never saw the porn, they did admit that shortly after her complaining about it, a filter was put on the department’s computer. Alexander said that Davis promised her the job, then sandbagged her by hiring Stanfield without letting the Board know of her applying for the position.

Alexander was acting Chief of the Department after Tomlinson’s arrest, and Aldermen testified at trial that they were pleased with her work. Davis said he “prayed” on the decision and did not make it until the last minute, but Stanfield testified that Davis had told him he had the position prior to the meeting held making the announcement. Davis also complained that Alexander had ordered all officers to wear the same uniforms to try to make the department look more professional and he felt as Acting Chief she did not have that right and had exceeded her boundaries.

Alexander filed suit and it was tied up in the court system since 2009. During the two day trial, two Aldermen testified that Mayor Davis never indicated that Alexander was even interested in the position and that they would have considered her for the position if they had known.

Davis said he hired Stanfield, who was an officer in Caruthersville at the time, because “His daddy had been Chief, his grandfather had been Chief, and he had experience with the drug task force.” Alexander worked on the drug case that brought down former Chief Tomlinson and had experience in federal drug work. Alexander also served in the military and did contract work in Iraq and Afghanistan. She trained officers in Iraq and was a dog handler for explosive seeking dogs. She also was the K-9 in Steele and a neighboring town.

The city is insured by MOPERM, who supplied the attorney for the case. According to law, the city can be held responsible for punitive damages and the insurance the actual damages, but no decision has been reached yet on how or when the award will be paid.

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