OpinionPolice Accountability

Jaco: Bad verdict. Bad cops. Bad police force

No group in America has done a better job of defunding the police than the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. $4.7 million in settlements over 44 excessive force, wrongful deaths, and civil rights violations between 2010 and 2016, plus a $900,000 wrongful death settlement by the daughter of the man killed by officer Jason Stockley (more on that later) in 2017, plus a $5 million settlement to Black detective Luther Hall, who was beaten by white officers, and you have $10.6 million taken from law enforcement by the SLMPD’s bad cops.

But the all-white rural and exurban federal jury didn’t hear about any of that as they considered charges against the white officers who beat Black undercover detective Hall in 2017. Had they known about all of those cases, they might very well have ignored the history of bad behavior of city police officers the same way they ignored video evidence, by letting three white cops off the hook for beating Hall, covering it up, and texting one another about it.

SLMPD officers Dustin Boone, Steven Korte, Christopher Myers and Randy Hays cornered Luther Hall on Sept. 17, 2017, while Hall was working undercover infiltrating demonstrations protesting a not-guilty verdict against former city cop Jason Stockley for killing a suspect in 2011. 

After officers beat Hall, the detective had a ruptured gall bladder, two herniated discs in his neck, two more in his lower back, torn jaw muscles, and a one-inch-diameter hole in his upper lip, all the way through to his teeth, as a result of the beatdown. The four exchanged text messages about it later, and with the help of another officer, Bailey Colletta, covered it up.

Luther Hall

Detective Luther Hall still hasn’t been able to return to work. The city, in effect, admitted guilt by settling with Hall for $5 million. Officer Randy Hays pleaded guilty to a federal charge of deprivation of civil rights under color of law, and faces 10 years in prison. Officer Bailey Colletta pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. She faces a federal sentence of between two and three years.

Luther Hall shot cellphone video as he was beaten. So did news crews. Still photographers also captured it. As part of a plea deal, Randy Hays testified against the three others before the federal jury.

In the city of St. Louis, an all-white jury would be, shall we say, unusual. But an all-white federal jury in the city is not only possible, but likely, since the jury pool for federal trials held in the city is drawn from not just the city but also St. Louis County and 12 surrounding counties, including Dent (population 15,600, 95% white), Maries (population 8,800, 97% white), Gasconade (population 14,700, 96% white) and Crawford (population 24,000, 98% white), as well as white-flight St. Charles and Jefferson counties.

According to people who have first-hand experiencer with the city police force and its ingrained racism, the problem was not that the U.S. Attorney’s office failed to make a deprivation of civil rights case against officers Boone, Korte and Myers. It’s that an all-white jury from outside of St. Louis city yawned at white cops beating an undercover Black officer.

“All white juries do what all white juries do in cases involving police abuse of Black bodies,“ said Reddit Hudson, who spent five years as a city police officer and co-founded the National Coalition of Law Enforcement for Justice Reform and Accountability.  “The verdict reinforces white supremacy, i.e., no Black man has any rights that a white man is bound to respect.”

Heather Taylor, who retired after 20 years as an SLMPD detective and formerly headed the Ethical Society of Police, agreed. Taylor was in the courtroom for every day of jury selection and the trial itself.

“I do not know what more the U.S. Attorney could have done,” Taylor said. “I think the jury did not want to convict and send three white officers to jail for up to 10 years. My guess on the jury is that they lived mostly in rural parts of Missouri.”

It’s easy to forget the racism that led up to this trial in the first place.  In December 2011, SLMPD officer Jason Stockley chased a car driven by Anthony Lamar Smith. Stockley claimed he saw Smith do a small-time drug deal. When he finally smashed into Smith’s car, Stockley claimed Smith had a gun, and fired five times, killing Smith.

The problem was that the gun on the seat in the car beside Smith’s body had only Officer Stockley’s DNA on it. Stockley remained a cop, Smith remained dead, and the city settled a wrongful death lawsuit with Smith’s daughter for $900,000. And there things remained until 2017, when city prosecutors finally brought murder charges against Stockley.

A judge, in a bench trial, found Stockley not guilty. Protests erupted. And that’s when white cops surrounded and beat Luther Hall at 14th and Olive streets in September, 2017.  And that led to the not-guilty verdicts in March 2021. And it’s that thread of racism and bad policing that runs in a straight line from 2011 to 2017 to 2021.

Ex city cop Reddit Hudson, now working to reform policing through the efforts of minority cops around the country, summed it up in a statement that could have been true anytime in the past year, decade or century.

“St. Louis’ racism,” he said, “is the constant that every generation here has had to navigate while trying to live, work, and shove the city towards something better than its regressive backward-ass power structure.”

Charles Jaco

Charles Jaco is a journalist and author. He has worked for NBC News, CNN, KMOX, KTRS, and Fox 2. He is best known for his coverage of the first Gulf War, and for his "legitimate rape" interview with Senate candidate Todd Akin. He is the winner of three George Foster Peabody Awards, and the author of four books.

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