ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- After nearly two days of deliberation, a jury convicted Dustin Boone for depriving St. Louis detective Luther Hall of his civil rights during a violent arrest during protests in 2017. The jury was hung on Christopher Myers, who was charged with destroying evidence with the intent of impeding an investigation into the assault.
When they were brought into the courtroom shortly after noon Thursday, jurors said they were not able to reach an agreement on either verdict. Judge E. Richard Webber read an instruction that they were to return to deliberation because they were in the best position to reach a decision, and a hung jury could necessitate another trial. Two hours later, they announced they had made a decision on Boone, but remained deadlocked on Myers.
When the verdict was read, Boone closed his eyes for several moments before staring straight ahead, motionless. Several of his family members wept, and his wife sobbed throughout the announcement.
Both officers were present at Hall’s arrest on Sunday September 17, 2017, but were charged with different crimes. Boone was charged with aiding and abetting the deprivation of Hall’s rights under color of law for his role in the arrest, and Myers was charged with destruction of evidence with intent to impede an investigation.
"We are very gratified by the jury's verdict today. I said in my closing argument that no one hates a bad cop more than a good cop and for those of us in law enforcement it's gratifying when you can take a bad cop off the streets," First Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie Constantin said outside the courthouse following the verdict.
For the second time, an all-white jury was selected in the trial of two white former SLMPD officers accused of assaulting an undercover Black detective and attempting to destroy the evidence of that attack.
The key hurdle for prosecutors in the trial- as well as the one that preceded it- was establishing the two men not only did what they were accused of, but also did so with malicious intent.
The defense never denied that Boone was present in the arrest, but asserted he was there not to intentionally deprive Hall of his rights, but to assist in what he believed at the time to be a lawful arrest. Boone told his superiors he had his knee in Hall’s back and held his head to secure him until he was cuffed.
To bolster that claim, they brought in several witnesses who confirmed no one at the scene saw anything that seemed to be outside the bounds of an arrest of someone who was resisting, and that no one who came upon the scene believed anything unlawful had happened during Hall’s detainment.
While the video from Hall’s cell phone captured the beginning of his assault, the defense used photos from that night to show Boone was not in the immediate area during the time period in which Hall’s phone was recording. The prosecution said while Boone was not captured on video, he was too close to the assault to have been unaware of what was happening to Hall. They also said just because the phone stopped recording that didn’t mean the assault stopped at that time. Hall had claimed the beating went on for at least a minute, and the prosecution said Boone would have arrived and held Hall down during that window.
Wednesday began with a detailed examination of nearly 100 photographs taken by Lawrence Bryant, a photojournalist working for the St. Louis American and Reuters the weekend of the Stockley protests.
Both defense attorneys pointed to variances in Hall’s recounting of how long the beating took, saying that while he may have thought it lasted as long as a minute, photos do not prove that it did.
So while it was established he was present, the key factor in the verdict came down to his intent at the time. Ultimately it was Boone’s text messages that the prosecution used to establish motive, pointing to a history of professed violence toward suspects and a specific eagerness to get physical with protesters the weekend of the protests (which later devolved into riots).
Boone had stated “...it’s gonna be a lot of fun beating the hell out of these [sh------s] once the sun goes down and nobody can tell us apart!!!!” in one message.
In another he said he and another officer “just grab [f----rs] and toss em around.” In yet another he said “Did everyone see the protesters getting [F---ED] UP in the galleria????? That was awesome.”
In the prosecution’s closing arguments, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie Constantin said the messages show Boone had no compunction about being violent, and suggested they proved he intended to be that weekend. She also pointed to his FaceTime call to his then-girlfriend during the arrest, and his lengthy apology message to Hall once Boone found out he was a police officer.
“Defendant Boone said he was going to beat protesters. Then he pinned down Detective Hall, aided and abetted Randy Hays (who previously pleaded guilty to beating Hall), and FaceTimed his girlfriend while doing so,” Constantin said during closing arguments, adding that Boone viewed it all as entertainment. “He said he was going to do it, he did it, and he apologized for it.”
Friday, officer testimony continued as Sergeant Joseph Marcantano took the stand to recall the night of the arrest, and specifically the actions of Christopher Myers.
The jury agreed, believing Boone’s role in the arrest was not as an unwitting accessory to a crime, but rather as a knowing participant unconcerned with unreasonable use-of-force.
For this trial, there was a stipulation that if the jury found Boone guilty, but did not find his actions did not aid and abet Hall's bodily harm and did not aid and abet the use a potentially deadly weapon during the arrest (specifically a riot baton), his charge would be reduced to a misdemeanor. As opposed to the felony charge which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years, the maximum for a misdemeanor is one year. The jury found that Boone's role in the arrest did not qualify for a reduction in the charge.
He will be sentenced in three months.
Boone's police officer license with the state has been revoked, so regardless of the outcome of this trial, he would not be allowed to be a police officer in Missouri (and would likely be unemployable in other states due to the revocation).
As for Myers, it was a lack of hard evidence that hampered prosecutors. While Constantin argued investigators concluded Myers broke the phone with his asp baton, even going so far as to tell the jury “He smashed the phone. You know he smashed the phone,” that conclusion was based on interpretation of the evidence the FBI gathered and not any direct proof.
The government claimed the phone was damaged by an asp while the camera side was down, and when it was struck by that asp, it flipped over and the camera immediately showed Myers standing there. They said because Myers carried an asp that night, and because he was immediately captured on video at the scene, he damaged the phone with intent to destroy it. The intent was proven by the fact he was close enough to the arrest while the beating was going on that he would have known it was unlawful, they said, as well as an account by another officer that Myers removed the battery from Hall’s camera (they claimed he believed it was the memory card).
Constantin said because those actions were intentional, the only reason he would have done so was to hamper any investigation into the incident in the future.
However, the defense argued all those conclusions were speculative and pointed to the fact that in the 120 interviews the FBI conducted during their investigation, no one claimed to have seen Myers damage the phone. Using photos timestamped during the window of Hall’s arrest, they showed Myers was not in the immediate vicinity. They also reiterated the fact that no one who testified in the trial believed anything was out of the ordinary at the scene at the time, and therefore even if Myers damaged the phone (which they asserted he did not do), he couldn’t have believed there was an imminent investigation.
Thursday's trial proceedings began where Wednesday's testimony left off, with Detective Luther Hall recounting the night of his assault in emotional testimony.
“They want you to believe Christopher Myers is the only man on earth at that moment who was contemplating some sort of investigation?” Myers’ attorney Scott Rosenblum argued in closing, “120 interviews and no one saw [Myers strike the phone]? It just didn’t happen.”
The defense also said several times that if Myers truly intended to destroy the phone, he would have gotten ridden of it entirely. Instead, they said, he returned it to Hall’s backpack. The phone was returned to Hall at the scene, but Constantin argued Myers did that because a damaged phone could be explained, but if a prisoner’s property was missing altogether, it would have been harder to justify. Hall’s phone remained operational after his arrest, and he used it to text for several days after the incident.
The jury could not come to a unanimous decision as to whether there was enough to prove Myers damaged the phone, or at least if he did, that his actions were specifically designed to obscure a potential investigation. A mistrial was declared, and it will be up to the U.S. Attorney's Office if they will re-try the case a third time.
"I'd be surprised if they're going to require Chris to go through yet a third trial. At that point, it becomes particularly inappropriate," Rosenblum told reporters outside the courthouse.