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St. Louis police officers charged with excessive force during Stockley protest arrest

Police officers line up on Washington Ave. in downtown St. Louis on Sept. 28, 2018 as people protest against the Stockley verdict and against mass arrests during a protest the previous week.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Police officers line up on Washington Ave. in downtown St. Louis on Sept. 28, 2018 as people protest against the Stockley verdict and against mass arrests during a protest the previous week.

Updated at 7:15 p.m. with comments from St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner — Four St. Louis police officers were indicted on federal charges Thursday in connection with the assault of an undercover officer during protests related to the Jason Stockley court ruling in 2017.

The four St. Louis Metropolitan Police officers named in the indictment are Dustin Boone, 35, Bailey Colletta, 25, Randy Hays, 31, and Christopher Myers, 27. All have been suspended without pay.

Public safety director Jimmie Edwards lauded the police department in a statement Thursday afternoon for having dedicated officers "who do exceptional work."

"In a few instances, some officers have fallen short of the professionalism required to work in our police department," Edwards said. "I take accountability and transparency very seriously. When a public safety employee acts outside the scope of their authority, it is imperative that they be held accountable to the fullest extent under the law."

The FBI investigated allegations that an undercover St. Louis police officer had been assaulted during a September 2017 protest downtown that resulted in more than 140 arrests. Police that night used a tactic known as “kettling” to surround, then arrest a large group that included protesters, livestreamers, journalists and the undercover officer. Those tactics have been the subject of several lawsuits.

The demonstration was among weeks of protests after former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley, who is white, was found not guilty of first-degree murder in the 2011 shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith, who was black.

More Context: St. Louis Public Radio's complete coverage of the Stockley verdict and subsequent protests

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner called the officers' alleged actions "disheartening" in a statement Thursday evening. Having known about the ongoing federal investigation, Gardner said her office has been forced to dismiss 91 cases involving the four officers and "will continue to review additional cases where these officers' testimony or involvement is fundamental."

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson said the allegations against the officers “do not reflect the standards we hold ourselves to as public servants.”

Police Chief John Hayden said Thursday in a written statement he was disappointed by the allegations.

“However, it is in no way reflective of the hard work and dedication exhibited by the men and women of our department who serve the community on a daily basis with integrity and honor,” he said.

Allegations and text messages

The FBI investigation into the allegations culminated this week.

All four officers were assigned to the Civil Disobedience Team in anticipation of unrest following the Stockley verdict. Police instructed the unit with “controlling the crowd as needed and arresting those individuals from whom there was probable cause to believe that they had committed crimes,” according to a statement from the Department of Justice.

A St. Louis police officer identified in the indictment as “L.H.” was working undercover during the protest. A federal grand jury charged Boone, Hays and Myers with using “unreasonable force” on L.H. that resulted in bodily injury. L.H. has been an officer for 22 years.

The charges include use of a dangerous weapon, shoes and a riot baton. Allegations against Boone, Hays and Myers also say the officers threw L.H. to the ground, kicked and struck him while he was “compliant and not posing a physical threat.”

The same three officers are also indicted with conspiracy to obstruct justice, including a charge against Myers for attempting to destroy the undercover officer’s cell phone. The officers, including Colletta, are also charged with obstructing justice for misleading a grand jury with false statements.

In text message exchanges, Myers, Boone and Hays talk about their intentions for the night.

“I know right. Yes I guess so, let’s go whoop some a**,” Myers wrote to an unknown person on Sept. 15.

“The more the merrier!!! It’s gonna get IGNORANT tonight!! But it’s gonna be a lot of fun beating the hell out of these s***heads once the sun goes down and nobody can tell us apart!!!!” Boone wrote.

In a series of other texts, Boone wrote that he wants to “f*** people up when they don’t act right!”

On Sept. 17, after a couple days of protests, Boone wrote, “Yeah. A lot of cops gettin hurt, but it’s still a blast beating people that deserve it. And I’m not one of the people hurt, so I’m still enjoying each night …”

In an October exchange, days after a September protest at St. Louis Galleria, Boone told Hayes that he should “stay in check as well.” To which Hays responded, “Remember, we are in south city. They support us but also cameras. So make sure you have an old white dude as a witness.”

Legal response

The excessive force charge against three of the four officers could result in up to 10 years in prison. Defendants could receive up to 20 years in prison if found guilty of obstructing justice. The charges could come with fines up to $250,000.

“These are serious charges and the vigorous enforcement of civil rights is essential to maintaining public trust in law enforcement,” said U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen in a DOJ statement.

Jensen commended the department for calling for the federal investigation.

“I continue to have great confidence in the brave and honorable men and women of the SLMPD, Chief John Hayden and Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards,” he said.

The ACLU of Missouri legal director Tony Rothert said the indictment was the first step in “addressing the culture that has allowed the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department to consistently behave in an unconstitutional manner.”

“While these officers have been indicted for illegally abusing an undercover officer they mistook for a protester, there has still been no real accountability for the individual officers who engaged in the same behavior toward protesters,” he said.


Follow Ashley on Twitter: @aadlisenby Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippman

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Ashley Lisenby is the news director of St. Louis Public Radio.
Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.