Undercover Black Cop Beaten 'Like Rodney King' Shines Light on St. Louis Police Force Long Accused of Racism

Det. Luther Hall was seriously injured by fellow officers who attacked him while he worked undercover.
Det. Luther Hall suffered several injuries during attack fellow while he was working undercover. Handouts

Det. Luther Hall, who is Black, was working undercover during a 2017 St. Louis protest over the acquittal of a white cop accused of killing a Black man. Mistaken for a demonstrator, he was beaten so severely he was forced to undergo multiple surgeries.

Det. Luther Hall, who is Black, was working undercover with a partner, who is white, in 2017. They were documenting criminal activity during a St. Louis  protest over the acquittal of another police officer charged with killing a Black man.

Both were tasked with filming and photographing illegal actions by demonstrators. They wore street clothes and blended in with marchers on downtown streets. More than 100 were arrested that night, including the white undercover officer, who was taken into custody without incident, authorities said.

Hall, on the other hand, was beaten so severely he was left with a hole in his lip and back injuries that required spinal fusion surgeries. The 22-year veteran would later testify he was twice slammed to the ground, kicked, punched and beaten with batons in a "free-for-fall" during which he never resisted.

“I could feel nothing but boots, sticks and fists striking my body,” he said. He was beaten, he said, "like Rodney King."

No convictions were returned last month in federal court in the trial of three white St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department officers accused of depriving Hall of his civil rights under color of law. 

The Federal Trial Held After Det. Luther Hall Was Beaten and Its Aftermath

An all-white jury was seated in the case, leading to allegations of racism. Officer Steven Korte was acquitted on charges of deprivation of rights under color of law and of lying to the FBI about the attack on Hall. Jurors acquitted former officer Christopher Myer on one count of deprivation of rights and and were unable to reach a decision on two charges against former cop Dustin Boone.

Prosecutors announced this month they will retry Boone and Myers on charges that jurors deadlocked on — a count of destruction of evidence against Myers for allegedly smashing Hall’s cellphone, and a deprivation of rights charge and a count of abetting a crime against Boone. 

Reactions to the verdicts were swift and angry, with community leaders, and even the police chief, decrying violence by officers.

"As you all know, the recent verdict in the trial regarding the incident wherein Detective Luther Hall was violently assaulted by some of our own, did not result in any convictions," wrote Police Chief John Hayden in an internal memo obtained by local media. "Officer accountability has been and will continue to be a pillar of my administration, but that is not enough," he wrote. 

"The public expects better from us and we should demand better of ourselves," said the chief, who has launched an internal investigation of Hall's beating, which was delayed because the FBI asked to complete their federal investigation first, he said. 

“If an undercover cop can’t get justice, how will the rest of us who have been maced, shot, beaten, and brutalized ever get justice?” tweeted U.S. Rep. Cori Bush, a Black Democrat who represents the area.

Two other officers, Randy Hays and Bailey Colletta, who also are white and were dating at the time of Luther's beating, previously entered guilty pleas. Hays admitted he struck Hall with a baton and shoved him to the ground. Colletta pleaded guilty to lying on the witness stand during grand jury proceedings.

Racism Complaints in the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and the Community

Former homicide detective Heather Taylor and current spokesperson for the Ethical Society of Police in St. Louis, the union representing Black officers on the force, said systemic racism in the department has existed for decades.

"For us, racism is the norm," she told Inside Edition Digital. "It's an ingrained way of thinking."

Taylor served for 20 years before retiring, she said. When she joined the department, she learned there were two unions, one for Black officers and one for everyone else. The Black union was formed because Black cops said they were not represented by the St. Louis Police Officers Association and were not treated fairly.

"The Ethical Society of Police came about because of that divide in the police department along racial lines," she said. "Throughout my career, I felt it."

Tishaura Jones, who was elected last week as the city's first Black female mayor, campaigned on racial injustice in St. Louis and had condemned last month's acquittals in the Luther case.

"I’m holding Officer Luther Hall and his family in my thoughts and prayers, and I hope that sooner rather than later, we have a Mayor and a City Government that is trusted by the community," she said in a statement at the time.

On Sunday, in an interview broadcast by NPR, Jones promised to address longstanding race issues affecting the city, including unrest at local jails and the coronavirus pandemic, which has disproportionately hurt people of color.

"We are done avoiding race and how it holds this region back," she said. She recounted a conversation she had with her 13-year-old son, who had asked what a mayor does.

She told him that as mayor, she would oversee several departments, including law enforcement.

"Oh, you'll be over the police. That means I'll be safe," her son replied. 

"That statement just hit me like a ton of bricks," the mother said. "Because I shouldn't have to run for mayor in order for my son to feel safe."

The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department declined an interview request from Inside Edition Digital concerning the Luther case, citing the ongoing internal investigation.

In federal court, defense attorneys claimed their clients were not responsible for Luther's beating, and cited the lack of video footage of the attack in determining the identities of the guilty parties. 

The attorney representing Boone, one of two former officers who will be retried, did not respond to a request for comment from Inside Edition Digital. Lawyer Scott Rosenblum, who represents Myers, said there is no evidence his client destroyed Luther's cellphone. "We still feel we have a very good defense," he told Inside Edition Digital.

The FBI ultimately investigated Luther's beating at the behest of city officials who requested federal oversight of the case. In an affidavit, agents identified text messages between the officers, chatting about brutalizing protesters in the days leading up to Hall's arrest.

"It’s going to be fun beating the hell out of these s*******s once the sun goes down and nobody can tell us apart … Just f*** people up when they don’t act right!” wrote Boone, according to the FBI.

“Let’s whoop some ass,” wrote Myers in a text recovered by the FBI, the affidavit said.

Defense attorneys dismissed those messages in court, saying they were taken out of context and were not part of the charges against their clients. 

Where Luther Hall Goes From Here

After the beating became public, some of the officers involved tried to reach Luther to influence his statements to investigators, federal officials said. No specific charges were filed over those messages.

In court, a federal prosecutor read one text recovered by the FBI from an officer involved which said, "I have been wanting to apologize to him [Hall] personally. We obviously didn't know he was a police officer."

Hall filed a lawsuit against the department over his treatment and recently settled for $5 million.

Taylor, who said she is a friend of Hall's, declared the amount not nearly enough to cover his suffering.

"I don't think that will ever make him whole again," she said. "Literally having your colleagues beating the s*** out of you, and then lying about it, that's something he has to deal with the rest of his life."

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