ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) — Former St. Louis officers Christopher Myers and Dustin Boone were back in court Monday as attorneys began whittling down the pool of potential jurors for the pair’s second federal trial involving charges of deprivation of civil rights and destruction of evidence.
[Read background on the case: Jury selection begins Monday for re-trial of officers accused of assaulting Luther Hall, destroying evidence]
The 90 potential jurors, drawn from the City of St. Louis and 13 surrounding counties, were asked a broad spectrum of questions, ranging from specific topics such as whether they took place in the 2017 protests following the Jason Stockley verdict, to more broader concerns such as whether they had hard opinions on movements like Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, and Defund the Police. They were also asked whether they or any family member or close friend participated in protests of any kind in the last eight years.
Recent instances of police violence against black citizens also played a role in the questioning, as Judge E Richard Webber asked each group if they would be unable to keep instances such as the deaths of Michael Brown, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor from influencing their judgment in the case.
Boone and Myers are charged with different offenses and have entirely separate legal teams, and Myers’ defense attorney Scott Rosenblum emphasized that fact while addressing potential jurors, asking specifically if they could, if selected, separate the two charges as well as evidence presented as it pertains to each defendant.
Rosenblum also had several questions for the jury pool regarding Randy Hays, the former officer who pleaded guilty and then testified as a witness for the prosecution in the first trial. Rosenblum said while jurors are supposed treat each witness the same, the law dictates a juror is allowed to consider that a witness is testifying in order to improve the terms of their plea deal. He brought up Hays’s names several times in that context, while asking jurors if they understood and agreed with the law.
He then moved into the concept of text messaging, asking if jurors agreed that sometimes miscommunications happen over text messaging, or if sometimes things said over text message can be viewed in the wrong context. As he continued, U.S. Attorney Carrie Constantin objected, saying the line of questions was improper for voir dire, and Rosenblum abruptly moved on.
However, when Boone’s attorney Patrick Kilgore began his round of questions, he picked up the topic of text messaging once again. Kilgore asked the pool whether any of them would presume Boone was guilty based on messages he sent disparaging protesters. He also primed potential jurors for the fact they will be presented evidence of Boone using racial slurs in text messages.
In court documents filed earlier this month, prosecutors point to texts from before and after the September 2017 attack, where Boone repeatedly sent family members and other officers messages using the n-word.
In July 2017, for example, Boone texted several other officers using racial slurs writing, “there r [n-words] running wild all across the city and even if/when we catch them…They don’t get in any trouble because there are plate lips running the cao!” using a slur in reference to the Circuit Attorney’s Office. The city’s circuit attorney, Kim Gardner, is a Black woman.
Judge Webber previously ruled that the text messages can be used during Boone’s re-trial.
Kilgore called the texts “racist” and “vulgar,” but asked if jurors would assume Boone’s guilt just because he used such language. He also emphasized his client is not charged with a hate crime, and in an exchange with one juror who said they had experience with racist language, Kilgore asked whether they believed a person who used racist language could grow and change.
Several potential jurors said they were aware of the case due to news coverage and social media posts, and were asked whether they formed an opinion based on that coverage. Additionally, they were asked if they could set aside what they saw or heard, or, as Rosenblum put it, if they could “un-ring the bell.”
News 4 has obtained exclusive video from a police source showing some of the events leading up to the beating of St. Louis Detective Luther Hall while he worked undercover during Stockley protests in 2017.
A handful of pool members said they could not set aside what they had learned through coverage of the case and were excused, including one who said he read a detailed story about the re-trial Monday morning and was aware of the new evidence being introduced.
However, one man who said he watched a news story Monday morning about this second trial did not appear to be dismissed. That potential juror said racial tensions were high in the country, and this case and coverage of it could make things worse. When he was asked by Rosenblum if he could set aside the previous coverage and his feelings and be impartial, he responded that he hoped he could.
Another potential juror was questioned about his knowledge of the case through media coverage, and said he recalled thinking the violence during the protests was “stupid,” referring to “rioting and looting,” and saying “tearing up your own neighborhood just to say you tore it up makes no sense.” However he also said he understands the difference between riots and peaceful protests, and also remembered thinking the incident with Hall was also “stupid,” because officers were “holding him down when they didn’t need to be holding him down.”
One woman said she would not be able to judge the case based solely on the evidence presented in court, saying she remembered the 2017 incident as “the cops were trying to keep order,” and said she wouldn’t be able to judge if the actions of officers were right or wrong because she “wasn’t in the situation.” That juror was dismissed, as was a woman who said the death of George Floyd and the coverage of that incident affected her to such a degree she could not remain impartial, adding that it changed how she felt about police.
She was not the only one, as a potential juror who took part in a Black Lives Matter protest last summer was also dismissed after she admitted she couldn’t guarantee that her feelings about Floyd’s death wouldn’t spill over into her judgement in this case.
Jurors were broken into three groups of 30, and the court moved through voir dire for the first two groups. The third group of 30 was not called, as proceedings ran long despite Judge Webber’s hopes of seating the 12 jurors and four alternates for the case by end of day.
The prosecution is allowed to strike six potential jurors, and the defense is allowed to strike 10, because there are two defendants. Additionally, each side can strike four potential alternates each. Because of those strikes, there have to be 40 jurors that have not been excused for conflicts or admitted bias before selection can be finalized (enough for all 24 strikes to be used and still have 12 jurors and four alternates left).
Jurors will be called back Tuesday morning and the process will resume at 9 a.m.
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