PHOTO BY THEO WELLING
St. Louis officers face off with protesters on September 15, 2017, the day a former officer was acquitted of murdering a suspect.
As news spread Thursday about the indictment of four St. Louis cops
, city officials began to make the "a few bad apples" case.
Officers Dustin Boone, Christopher Myers and Randy Hays are accused of beating an undercover cop whom they mistook for a protester in September 2017. Officer Bailey Colletta, who dates Hays, lied to a grand jury to cover for them, according to the charges.
Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards, who oversees the department, described officers as "outliers" among dedicated professionals.
Police Chief John Hayden said he was "disappointed" in their alleged actions, though the chief still added, "however, it is in no way reflective of the hard work and dedication exhibited by the men and women of our department who serve the community on a daily basis with integrity and honor."
But for the many non-cops who were also bloodied and bruised the same night by the city's police force, those statements rang hollow.
"The idea that these officers are outliers, as the city says, is ridiculous," attorney Javad Khazaeli of Khazaeli Wyrsch
, told the RFT
Khazaeli, along with the nonprofit civil rights law firm ArchCity Defenders
, is representing more than a twenty people who are suing the city, alleging cops beat, wantonly teargassed, illegally arrested or otherwise abused them during the protests that followed the acquittal of former police officer Jason Stockley
on a murder charge in the 2011 killing of Anthony Lamar Smith.
Attorneys for roughly two dozen plaintiffs tied to the protests told the RFT
they see the indictments as a good first step — and they're cautiously optimistic more indictments will follow.
"I think it would be a huge mistake if that were the only case to be prosecuted, because we know that many people were abused that night," ArchCity Executive Director Blake Strode says.
City police made well over 250 arrests during weeks of protests that followed the Stockley verdict. One of the ugliest clashes happened at the end of the third day — Sept. 17, 2017 — as the demonstrations began to wind down for night. More than 120 people were arrested, most of them surrounded at the intersection of Washington Avenue and Tucker Boulevard by police who stood shoulder-to shoulder on all four sides and refused to let them leave.
of the "kettle" show police in helmets beating their shields with clubs in unison before they swarmed in, showering the crowd with pepper spray even as people complied with orders to get on the ground.
Husband-and-wife filmmakers Drew and Jennifer Burbridge
of Kansas City said in their lawsuit that officers targeted them because they had been recording police.
"Do you want to take my picture now, motherfucker?" one officer asked Drew Burbridge before they knocked him unconscious, according to the suit. "Do you want me to pose for you?"
In an ACLU suit, plaintiffs claimed police homed in on people with cameras and tried to destroy cell phones in hopes of erasing any record of the abuse. The judge in that case issued a temporary injunction, writing in her order
that officers had "exercised their discretion in an arbitrary and retaliatory fashion to punish protesters for voicing criticism of police or recording police conduct."
The allegations in the civil suits mirrored those in Thursday's indictment. Federal prosecutors claim Boone, Myers and Hays knocked undercover officer Luther Hall to the ground, beat him and then tried to mutilate his phone, even though he complied with their orders.
Whether that's a sign federal prosecutors will pursue charges against additional officers remains to be seen. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.
The four indictments are "an important" first step, but they don't cover the abuse suffered by numerous protests, ACLU of Missouri Legal Director Tony Rothert says.
"While these officers have been indicted for illegally abusing an undercover officer they mistook for a protester, there has still been no real accountability for the individual officers who engaged in the same behavior toward protesters," Rothert said in a prepared statement. "St. Louis officials must address this rampant lawlessness by its police."
The Ethical Society of Police, an organization that represents minority officers, was among the first to call for an investigations as reports of abuse rolled in from the first days of the protest. On Friday, the group issued a statement saying any officers found to have covered up misconduct should be fired and charged with crimes.
Plaintiffs in the civil suits say officers assigned to Civil Disobedience Team, better known as "riot police," tried to conceal their identities by removing name tags from their uniforms. In one of the text messages federal investigators recovered from Boone's cell, he makes it clear that anonymity was important.
"It's gonna get IGNORANT tonight!!" he wrote on September 15, 2017. "But it's gonna be a lot of fun beating the hell out of these shitheads once the sun goes down and nobody can tell us apart!!!"
Two nights later, he was one of a hundred or more officers involved in the kettle. Protesters, journalists and even an Air Force officer and his wife who live in the neighborhood were rounded up and, according to the lawsuits, brutalized by cops who celebrated the mass arrests with cigars and chanted "Whose streets? Our streets."
The next day, September 18, Boone texted, "We reloading these fools up on prisoner busses [sic]. As they got on we all said in unison 'OUR STREETS' haha."
St. Louis riot police pose after kettling protesters in a photo posted to social media and later included in court filings.
Lt. Col. Larry O'Toole, then the interim chief, bragged to reporters
after the kettle arrests that police "owned the night." But as reports of widespread abuse became public, he moderated his tone, jointly requesting
with Mayor Lyda Krewson that the FBI investigate claims of out-of-control officers.
Hayden, who was later selected over O'Toole to lead the force, said on Thursday the department had fully cooperated with federal investigators.
"I want to ensure the community that this department will continue to be open, honest, and transparent in our commitment to make the City of St. Louis a safer place for all to live, work, and visit," Hayden said in the written statement.
The Burbridges' attorney, Talmage Newton of Newton Barth
, says if the police department was serious about rooting out bad officers, they would have helped him identify the three who assaulted his client. The St. Louis attorney says video obtained through discovery in the case confirms his clients' story, but it was only through enlarging and enhancing the footage that he was able to identify the cops. He plans to turn over the information to the FBI and federal prosecutors.
"[The police department] should have a vested interest in identifying rogue officers who are assaulting people," Newton says. "Instead, they're involved in a massive cover up."
None of the three officers accused of assaulting the filmmaker are among the four indicted by the U.S. Attorney. The suits filed by Khazaeli and ArchCity also name other officers. ArchCity's Strode says there is a clear pattern of widespread abuse by police that goes far beyond Boone, Myers, Hays and Colletta.
"This is behavior we see time and time again," Strode says. "This is not about a few bad apples."
The text messages in the indictment, which appears to include other, unnamed officers as recipients, extended over weeks. In October 2017, Hays wrote that "going rogue does feel good" and gave Boone some advice for the evening: "Remember we are in south city. They support us but also cameras. So make sure you have an old white dude as a witness."
Khazaeli says the messages confirmed what many suspected was going on behind the scenes.
"The idea that the officers expressing this type of disdain for constitutional rights haven't been doing it for years to other people is laughable to me," he says.
He suggests the department should investigate more of its officers' messages; he plans to.
"We look forward to reviewing the text messages, emails and other communications of all the officers involved in the Stockley protests as part of discovering in our cases," he says.
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Police mass downtown on September 17, 2017, the night of the controversial kettle that swept up Post-Dispatch reporter Mike Faulk.