ST. LOUIS (AP) — No convictions were returned for three white St. Louis police officers accused of beating a Black undercover colleague so severely during a protest over another officer’s acquittal that he had to undergo multiple surgeries.
A jury on Monday acquitted Officer Steven Korte of charges of deprivation of rights under color of law and of lying to the FBI in the attack on Officer Luther Hall. It happened when Hall was mistaken for a protester during demonstrations that erupted after former police Officer Jason Stockley, who is white, was found not guilty in the 2011 death of a Anthony Lamar Smith, who was Black.
Hall, who is still with the department, described the 2017 attack to jurors as a “free-for-all.”
Former Officer Christopher Myers also was acquitted Monday of a deprivation of rights count, but the jury could not reach a verdict on a charge of destruction of evidence against Myers for allegedly smashing Hall’s cellphone. The jury also deadlocked on the deprivation of rights charge against former Officer Dustin Boone, leading the judge to declare a mistrial on counts where the jury could not agree.
St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden said Tuesday that the department would begin an internal affairs investigation, which he said was delayed at the request of federal prosecutors to avoid compromising the criminal investigation.
“It is our hope to now obtain all relevant evidence from the FBI to conduct a complete and thorough internal investigation,” Hayden’s statement said.
It was unclear if the internal investigation would involve only Korte and not Myers and Boone, who could still face charges. Hayden said he would not make any further statements or answer questions.
Defense lawyers said that St. Louis Police Department chaos and dysfunction meant that officers and supervisors on the street didn’t know undercover officers were working that night. Defense lawyers also challenged Hall’s ability to identify his attackers.
The verdicts reignited criticisms that an all-white jury was picked to decide the case.
“If an undercover cop can’t get justice, how will the rest of us who have been maced, shot, beaten, and brutalized ever get justice?” tweeted U.S. Rep. Cori Bush, a Black Democrat who represents the Missouri district that includes St. Louis.
Korte’s lawyer, John Rogers, lauded his client’s acquittal, saying outside the courthouse that Korte could now “return to the St. Louis Police Department if he so chooses.” Korte is still employed by the department, but has not returned to duty since being charged.
Attorney Scott Rosenblum, who represented Myers, maintained as he had during the trial that federal prosecutors failed to prove Myers was among those who beat Hall. After the verdict Monday, he accused prosecutors of basing their case on rumors from within the department.
An attorney for Boone, Patrick Kilgore of St. Louis, did not immediately return phone and email messages left Tuesday seeking comment.
Two other officers, Randy Hays and Bailey Colletta, who also are white, previously entered guilty pleas. Hays admitted hitting Hall with a baton and shoving him to the ground. Colletta pleaded guilty to making false statements to the grand jury about the assault.
The St. Louis region was still recovering from unrest that followed the fatal 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson. Two nights after Stockley’s acquittal, demonstrators broke windows downtown. Police made 123 arrests, but protesters and civil rights leaders said many of those arrested were peaceful demonstrators, journalists and onlookers who were brutalized and taunted.
Hall, who had been recording criminal activity, became separated from his partner while fleeing officers who were firing pepper-spray pellets and bean bag rounds into the crowd.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie Costantin told jurors that as Hall was complying with orders to get on the ground, he was knocked down, hit, picked up and knocked down again before being attacked with fists, feet and a baton.
Hall said he did not push, fight or pull away from the officers. He said he was stunned. “I couldn’t believe it was happening,” he told the jury.
Prosecutors have said Myers and Boone were motivated by an eagerness to harm protesters, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Hall didn’t tell officers he was undercover because he did not want to ruin his chances of working undercover at future protests. A sergeant later recognized Hall and had him pulled aside.
Hall suffered a hole in his lip that had to be stitched closed, injuries to his jaw and injuries to his neck that later required spinal fusion. He was unable to eat solid food for weeks, causing him to lose 20 pounds (9.1 kilograms).
Hall recently settled a lawsuit against the department for $5 million.