Dustin Boone, right, walks to the federal courthouse in St. Louis with his family.
Despite ex-St. Louis cop Dustin Boone's role in the beating of an undercover police officer, his texts in which he freely used the N-word, and his habit of bragging about violently abusing and humiliating people he arrested, his family and friends say he's a great guy.
"I agree that the text messages pulled from Dustin's phone are vile, but these texts do not portray the true Dustin Boone," his stepfather, retired St. Louis police Sergeant Anthony Boone, writes in a letter — one among a dozen testimonials sent by fellow cops, relatives and friends of Dustin Boone to Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Webber in advance of the former police officer's sentencing next week.
The letters reflect the long-running tension around the case against Boone, which has now run through two trials. Along with extensive witness testimony and troves of photographic evidence, the texts showed officers at their unguarded worst. They revealed not only the mindset of multiple police officers giddy at beating protesters, but, in Boone's case, apparent evidence of a cop who had gone bad long before the night he beat an undercover detective.
Boone was one of five St. Louis police officers indicted in the attack on Detective Luther Hall in September 2017. Hall, who is Black, was working undercover, posing as a protester during the unrest that followed the acquittal of another ex-cop, Jason Stockley, of a murder charge.
As officers on the police department's Civil Disobedience Team, better known as the riot police, swarmed downtown, firing pepper balls and making mass arrests, Hall was tackled, slammed to the street and beaten so savagely that he was not able to eat solid food for weeks after. His partner, who is white, was detained the same night but released without injury.
Boone was convicted
this past June, in the second of two trials, of depriving Hall of his civil rights. He faces ten years in prison, and that's the sentence federal prosecutors recommended in a filing last week. Two other ex-officers pleaded guilty and were sentenced. Randy Hays
, who admitted beating Hall with a baton and testified against Boone, was sentenced to 52 months. Bailey Colletta
, who helped try to cover up what happened, got two weekends in jail and probation.
Boone's supporters are hoping for a sentence well under the ten years. His attorneys, Justin Kuehn and Stephen Williams, suggested 26 months, writing in their sentencing memorandum that Boone "fell prey to a police culture of excessive force that permeated his own department."
The defense team admits Boone pinned Hall to the ground during the attack and concedes that jurors ultimately determined that Boone's behavior made him at least partially responsible for what happened.
"Dustin Boone should not, however, serve as a sacrificial lamb," the attorneys write.
Instead, they argue that Hall would have been beaten whether Boone was there or not; his role was that of an accomplice. Instead, they say, much of the ex-officer's trouble in the case comes from the text messages he sent, which included gleeful accounts of beating protesters and racist comments.
A common thread through the attorneys' argument and the letters from supporters is that the texts were bad, but somehow out of character. Friends and family told stories of Boone, who worked as an electrician before joining the force in 2015, helping out friends and acquaintances with electrical work and doting on his young daughter.
"I know Dustin had texts in his phone used language that some people want to use to label him as a racist," the wife of another officer writes, noting that she is Black. "Being considered family, I sat in on the trial and I know Dustin is ashamed of some of the things he said in the text messages. ... I know Dustin loves me, my husband, and my kids as family. No texts using racist words changes that."
Racist words were common in the texts FBI agents recovered from Boone's phone.
"There are r n*****s running wild all across the city and even if/when we catch them..... they don't get in any trouble because there are plate lips running the CAO!" Boone wrote in a group text to other officers in July 2017, two months before the assault on Hall. CAO is apparently a reference to the St. Louis Circuit Attorney's Office, which is under the supervision of the city's first Black circuit attorney, Kim Gardner.
There were many examples, including messages he sent to some of the same family members who wrote letters attesting to his character. But prosecutors say Boone's texts weren't just "racist words" but evidence of his penchant for violence against those who encountered him on the streets.
"Defendant has no criminal convictions," Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie Constantin writes. "However, his texts indicate that he participated in at least four other assaults during the short time that he was a police officer."
In an example from April 19, 2017, he texted other officers to brag that he and another officer had tasered a suspected car thief in the head.
"Dude caught a tampering 1st, resisting stealing of a motor vehicle out of the county and a TASER to the fuckin dome?" Boone wrote, adding, "Caught him in some THICK over grow in a side vacant lot, there was nobody around except me. Shaw, shithead and god... he is at the hospital now... poor guy."
Encouraged by at least one other officer on the text thread, Boone added, "Hahaha we made him tell the other officers on scene that he is a pussy! Hahaha he was puking on himself while EMS was looking at him and saying 'I'm a pussy, in a pussy.' And crying...... it was the greatest moment of my short career! Lol."
During the Stockley protests in 2017, Boone texted that his role on the Civil Disobedience Team was "... just fuck people up when they don't act right."
Prosecutors also noted that he live-streamed Hall's beating to his then-girlfriend, whom he quickly married after it became clear she might be called by prosecutors to testify. After Boone learned the supposed protester beaten that night was actually an undercover police officer, he sent the girlfriend texts, asking her to keep quiet: "Nothing about that story to anyone please."
Anthony Boone, the retired sergeant and stepfather, writes in his letter to the judge that Hall was a friend of his. He says he was the one who gave the younger Boone the beaten detective's cell phone number.
While Dustin Boone texted Hall to apologize, the attempt became evidence in court, as prosecutors included it in the criminal complaint as proof of Boone's involvement. Anthony Boone says that wasn't the admission of guilt that prosecutors made it out to be.
"I supplied Luther Hall's phone number to Dustin, and he subsequently sent him the apologize text," Anthony Boone writes. "That apology was nothing more than that, that he was upset for being on scene, that it happened to him (Luther) and because Luther and I are friends."
Hall did not text back. He later won a $5 million settlement from the city in a civil lawsuit.
Dustin Boone's attorneys admit his text messages were terrible but argue that they were primarily bluster, his attempt to fit into a department where revolting tales of abuse became a "cocktail hour joke." Boone's texts are not that of an outlier, they write, but a sign of assimilation:
"If FBI agents did a department-wide forensic search of everyone's iphone databases, the same material would surely surface everywhere."
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