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How Former St. Louis Cops Got An All-White Jury — Again

From left, former St. Louis police officers Christopher Myers and Dustin Boone.
Former St. Louis police officers Christopher Myers, left, and Dustin Boone.

A federal trial underway in downtown St. Louis will determine the fate of two former police officers accused of beating a Black detective who was working undercover at a protest in 2017. And for the second time, all of the jurors empaneled to hear the case are white.

Earlier this year, a jury was unable to reach a unanimous decision in the case of former officers Dustin Boone and Christopher Myers, while acquitting a third officer. Prosecutors are now trying Boone and Myers again. Both white men, Boone again faces a count of deprivation of rights under color of law, and Myers is charged with destruction of evidence.

A Black woman joined the jury in the first trial only after a white juror was excused midtrial for personal reasons. In the second trial, all of the jurors — including alternates — are white. And race is a significant issue in this case. Boone sent racist texts and allegedly livestreamed to his girlfriend (now wife) the beating of Detective Luther Hall.

Peter Joy is the director of the Criminal Justice Clinic at Washington University School of Law.
Evie Hemphill
St. Louis Public Radio
Peter Joy is the director of the Criminal Justice Clinic at Washington University School of Law.

The fact that an all-white jury was again seated did not come as a surprise to Peter Joy, the Henry Hitchcock Professor of Law and director of the Criminal Justice Clinic at Washington University School of Law.

The Eastern District of Missouri draws from a wide geographic area. Demographically, it is predominantly white.

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, Joy recalled being summoned for federal jury duty in 2015. “I Iooked around the room at the jury pool and counted three people of color in the entire room of about 50 potential jurors,” he said.

Judges have a lot of discretion in remedying that. In some instances, Joy said, federal judges have looked at a predominately white jury pool and adjourned the case for a couple of days so that more prospective jurors can be called in. And in some federal districts, judges have worked to increase the number of minorities reporting for jury duty.

More typically, though, judges must rule when attorneys invoke a Batson challenge. Those challenges stipulate that there must be a race-neutral reason for a juror’s exclusion. Prosecutors’ Batson challenge was successful in the first trial and kept a Black alternate juror, who was later seated.

In jury selection for the second trial earlier this week, prosecutors’ Batson challenge was unsuccessful. Joy explained that it’s fairly easy for attorneys to come up with an explanation for why their exclusion of a potential juror was not based on race. Under Batson, a judge must determine race was the primary reason a juror was struck — not just a contributing reason.

For Joy, that standard is too high.

Why An All-White Jury Is Hearing The Case — Again

Some states hold that race must merely be the reason that an objective observer might conclude a juror was struck. He’d like to see federal law, and Missouri law, changed to that standard. “Until the Batson standard itself gets changed …. I think we're going to continue to have problems with Batson,” he said.

Another possible solution would eliminate peremptory challenges, allowing lawyers only to strike potential jurors when the juror says they cannot be impartial, Joy explained.

Changing the legal standard would be a challenge. Joy said he often thinks of the U.S. Supreme Court as needing to take action but said congressional action would be possible.

“Then we run into the problem of getting bipartisan agreement in the U.S. Congress, and it's not something we should hold our breath about,” Joy said.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Alex is the executive producer of "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.