JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday reversed convictions of assault, burglary and property damage against a deputy accused of beating a suspected methamphetamine maker during an arrest.
Christopher Hunt, a deputy sheriff who was working for the St. Charles County Regional Drug Task Force, was charged in 2009 and later convicted after kicking open a trailer door and hitting Phillip Alberternst in what the court said was the "upper area, shoulders and head area" to subdue him.
Alberternst was hiding in a friend's trailer on Feb. 5, 2009, when 10 officers from two local sheriff's departments and two drug task force units planned to arrest him. They had warrants for his arrest but none to search the trailer, so they knocked on his door and waited for him to come out.
Hunt came and kicked in the trailer's door while other police were staked outside.
Alberternst's ex-girlfriend had told police of his location, but asked Hunt stay out of the arrest. Alberternst had previously backed out of an agreement to act as an informant to Hunt, and a brief from Hunt's attorney says Alberternst testified that the deputy later backhanded him while he was in handcuffs during a prior arrest.
Court documents show there was no evidence that Hunt was told not to participate in the sting.
Other police followed Hunt inside and, with him, beat Alberternst before handcuffing him when he didn't comply with their commands.
A trial court convicted the deputy of assault, burglary and property damage.
But Supreme Court judges overturned all three convictions. In the opinion, they said police are protected from property damage charges during an arrest if they announce their presence but are denied entrance. They also said Hunt could get a retrial for the assault charges.
The Supreme Court also said the trial court incorrectly asked a jury to determine whether Hunt had the authority to strike Alberternst during the arrest. The judges said Hunt had the authority to hit Alberternst, but he could receive a retrial to determine whether he used excessive force.
Hunt still is employed with the St. Charles County Sheriff's Department but is working in an administrative role, Lt. David Tiefenbrunn said.
Alberternst is now in prison on two counts of manufacturing a controlled substance and endangering the welfare of a child.