From left: Steven Korte, Christopher Myers and Dustin Boone face federal charges.
The trial of three St. Louis white police officers accused of beating a Black undercover detective kicked off this afternoon, pitting cops against one another in what is shaping up to be an ugly case for the city's police force.
Federal prosecutors allege Dustin Boone, Christopher Myers and Steven Korte were involved in the brutal arrest of Detective Luther Hall followed by a clumsy cover up. Hall was posing as a protester in September 2017 during demonstrations sparked by the acquittal of ex-St. Louis cop Jason Stockley of murder in the killing of Anthony Lamar Smith.
Two of the defendants' former colleagues, Randy Hays and Bailey Colletta, have already pleaded guilty in the case. Hays admitted to the beating, and Colletta confessed she had lied to a grand jury and the FBI.
The case against Boone, Myers and Korte was delayed by the pandemic but is now proceeding in front of an all-white jury with reporters and spectators watching from an overflow room in the federal courthouse.
In a preview of the battle to come, defense attorney Scott Rosenblum painted a picture of an undertrained, gossipy and ill-prepared police department whose response to the protests was haphazard. Rosenblum, who is representing Myers, insisted that video and photos from the night in question show his client wasn't even close to Hall at the time of the beating. Rosenblum further outlined a series of interpersonal conflicts and ulterior motives among officers, which he claims led to a botched investigation and charges against his client.
Randy Hays and Bailey Colletta leave court in December 2018.
In his opening statement, Rosenblum flamed Hays, who is expected to testify for the prosecution, as a liar who is spinning stories in hopes of landing a lighter sentence for his role in the attack on Hall. Rosenblum also singled out Lt. Kim Allen, whom he claimed began her own rogue investigation to help her friend Hall, along with Sgt. Joseph Marcantano, who was promoted to his current rank despite allegations he played a prominent role in the beating.
Marcantano only talked to the FBI to protect himself after Hays pleaded guilty and implicated him, according to Rosenblum.
"You'll see what Marcantano is about," Rosenblum promised jurors.
In the attorney's telling, Myers and other officers were thrown into a chaotic situation, forced to respond to "anarchists, as they were described" with confused direction from their superiors. The day after Hall's arrest, police brass rallied their troops with "rah-rah" speeches like a high school football game, Rosenblum said.
The narrative of dutiful cops trying to make the best of chaos is likely to be a prominent story line as attorneys for the officers work to position their clients as beleaguered actors fending off violent threats. Lawyers for Boone and Korte have the opportunity to make their opening statements on Wednesday.
More than two dozen civil suits filed as a result of police crackdowns on protests point to police as instigators, eager to respond to demonstrations with pepper spray, mass arrests and outright beatings. Allegations in the civil suits echo descriptions of the violence against Hall, only the plaintiffs in those cases aren't police officers and no other criminal charges have been filed.
Their arguments have been buoyed by footage of officers' heavy-handed tactics, a judge's findings that police used pepper spray as retaliation and a series of text messages pulled from officers' phones in the criminal trial.
"[I]t's going to be a lot of fun beating the hell out of these shitheads once the sun goes down and nobody can tell us apart!!!" Boone wrote in one of the many examples.
Hall also filed a civil lawsuit outside of the criminal case, describing being beaten by the officers mistook him for a protester. The city reportedly agreed to settle that case for $5 million.
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