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Trial of three St. Louis officers accused of beating undercover colleague begins

Trial of three St. Louis officers accused of beating undercover colleague begins

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ST. LOUIS — Opening statements are set to begin Tuesday in the trial of one current and two former St. Louis police officers accused of taking a role in the beating of an undercover colleague during police protests in 2017.

Dustin Boone, Steven Korte and Christopher Myers each face a charge of deprivation of rights under color of law connected to the attack on Luther Hall. Myers faces a charge of destruction of evidence for allegedly smashing Hall’s cellphone and Korte faces a charge of lying to the FBI.

Hall was working undercover at a Sept. 17, 2017, protest that followed the acquittal of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley on a murder charge. Prosecutors say officers mistook Hall for a protester and beat him, and then arrested him without probable cause.

They also said Boone, Myers and another officer, Randy Hays, had expressed “disdain” for protesters and “excitement about using unjustified force against them and going undetected while doing so” in text messages before the protests.

Four officers, including Hays and Bailey Colletta, were indicted Nov. 29, 2018. Korte was added to the case in 2019, and the coronavirus pandemic delayed the trial further.

Myers’ lawyer Scott Rosenblum said in a hearing last week that a lengthy opening statement Tuesday would “set the stage” for jurors about disorganization and dysfunction in the police department, and among commanders, that led to charges against Myers, as well as “objective evidence of his innocence.”

Korte’s lawyer, John Rogers, said he would challenge claims that Korte’s voice was caught on tape during the attack.

Korte is still with the department, but the others have all left.

By Monday, 600 prospective jurors had been winnowed down by questionnaires that asked about jurors’ fears of COVID-19 and other issues, and lawyers were questioning them in groups of about 30.

The trial will be among only a handful that have been conducted during the pandemic. In July, court officials imposed rules to protect jurors and participants, including a mask requirement, social distancing and the installation of plexiglass panels. Trials were suspended again when the pandemic worsened, but many court officials and employees have since been vaccinated.

Lawyers for Korte and Myers balked at wearing masks and having their clients wear them, saying in an earlier hearing that masks have historically been associated with criminal conduct. U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry said lawyers will have to wear masks unless speaking but the defendants could go maskless.

Seating is so limited, however, that the judge established an overflow courtroom where a live video feed will be shown.

The trial is expected to conclude next week, and will feature videos, photos and about 25 witnesses, prosecutors have said, including two who were originally charged and have pleaded guilty. Hays pleaded guilty to one felony count of deprivation of rights under color of law and admitted hitting Hall with a baton and shoving him to the ground. Colletta admitted lying to the FBI and a federal grand jury about Hall’s assault.

Boone rejected a plea offer that carried a potential prison term of seven to nine years. Myers also rejected a proposed plea, but Korte did not request one, according to court testimony. Defense lawyers will be allowed to ask about a lawsuit Hall filed against the officers and the department that was recently settled with the city for $5 million, and prosecutors may be allowed to ask about the settlement amount.

Hall suffered injuries to his back, lip and jaw. He is still employed by the department.

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