From left: Steven Korte, Christopher Myers and Dustin Boone face federal charges.
A federal jury has acquitted two St. Louis cops in the beating of a Black undercover detective, whom they mistook for a protester, according to court observers and media.
Jurors, eleven who are white and one who is Black, deadlocked on a charge against a third officer.
Officers Dustin Boone, Christopher Myers and Steven Korte had each been charged with depriving Detective Luther Hall of his civil rights in 2017 when Hall was arrested, thrown to the ground repeatedly and bludgeoned with a baton. Myers faced an additional charge that he smashed Hall's phone during the scrum.
See Also: The Last Thing Luther Hall's Camera Captured Before His Police Beating
Jurors acquitted Korte and Myers and couldn't reach a verdict on Boone. They also couldn't agree on the second charge against Myers. Korte remains on the force, but the other two are no longer city cops.
The three were among hundreds of St. Louis police officers working protests in September 2017 following the acquittal of ex-city cop Jason Stockley, who had been charged with murder in the 2011 killing of Anthony Lamar Smith.
While the trio was covered in the heavy armor of the department's Civil Disobedience Team, or "riot police," Detective Luther Hall was deployed undercover to embed with protesters. He filmed and photographed the action through the night of September 17, 2017, as protests moved into downtown. But things went awry as uniformed police went on the offensive.
Hall would later testify that police opened fire with pepper balls, sending people scrambling. Hall and his partner, Louis Naes, were among more than 100 people arrested downtown that night. But while Naes, who is white, was treated lightly by arresting officers, Hall told investigators that his fellow cops "beat the fuck out of him like Rodney King."
Police mass downtown on September 17, 2017, the night Detective Luther Hall was beaten and arrested while undercover.
Dozens of other people swept up by police on that night and others during the Stockley protests reported similarly violent treatment by officers, although no other charges were filed.
Investigators later recovered text messages Boone and Myers sent in the days before Hall's assault, gleefully boasting about the prospect of beating protesters. Prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's Office used those messages in making the case against the officers.
Additional text messages showed Boone and others scrambling after the beating, once they'd learned Hall was not a protester, but an undercover officer. Hall had been badly hurt — damaged vertebrae, injuries to his jaw that made it so difficult to eat for weeks that he lost weight. Prosecutors said officers broke Hall's camera and Myers smashed a phone the detective had used to film protesters.
Boone and another officer, Randy Hays, also exchanged messages after Hall's beating. Hays pleaded guilty
in November 2019 and testified against his former colleagues. In text messages recovered by the FBI, he told Boone he had some regrets, although they were limited.
"Wasn't just us," Hays texted in 2017. "I don't like the beating the hell outta a cop, but the department put him in that spot, he could've announced himself at any time. And he wasn't complying. The camera thing is just ignorant, nothing we all haven't done and if it was a protester it wouldn't be a problem at all."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie Constantin, who led the prosecution, described texts sent by the officers as proof of their guilt during her closing statement last week.
"Their actions are encapsulated in one of Boone’s texts, 'It's going to be a lot of fun beating the hell of out of these shitheads once the sun goes down and nobody can tell us apart,'" Constantin told jurors, adding, "They weren't about professionalism. They were about beating the shit out of people."
But defense attorneys worked to pin the blame on Hays, who had admitted clubbing Hall with a baton, and persuade jurors that their clients were not involved in the beating. They also pointed to Hall's actions that night, claiming he hid himself behind an electrical box, making himself a potential threat to officers in a dangerous, chaotic situation.
Defense attorneys also seized on a theory that Hall and allies in the department created a rumor mill by conducting their own investigation into what happened that night, ultimately making their clients false suspects.
The verdict means all three get to walk, at least for now. It's unclear if prosecutors will retry Boone and Myers on the charges that jurors couldn't agree on.
Hays has not yet been sentenced. A fifth officer, Bailey Colletta
, previously pleaded guilty after admitting she lied to the FBI and a grand jury to cover up the incident. She is also awaiting sentencing.
Following the verdict, St. Louis mayoral candidates Tishaura Jones and Cara Spencer each released statements critical of the state of the police department and promising reforms.
The Ethical Society of Police, an organization that represents Black officers in St. Louis, said there was "clear evidence" to convict Boone, Myers and Korte.
"Police officers continue to escape the consequences of their actions," ESOP said in a written statement. "The criminal justice system continues to show African-American victims of police violence we do not receive the same level of justice when white police officers are accused of excessive force toward African Americans."
— Danny Wicentowski contributed to this report.
Editor's note: This story was updated after publication with additional comments.