etective Luther Hall, an African American St. Louis police officer was on the job, undercover. Hall and partner Lewis Naes were on assignment to observe protestors. Assigned to blend in to a crowd of demonstrators during a 2017 protest of the not guilty verdict of former officer Jason Stockley, who was acquitted in the killing of Anthony Lamar Smith—a 24-year-old Black man who died after a questionable traffic stop—Hall and Naes were there to gauge the crowd’s tone and tenor.
Luther Hall and Lewis Naes blended in, moving through the protest in their separate ways. Hall used his phone to record what he was witnessing. During that evening, each undercover officer encountered uniformed officers. Although Hall had a cell phone, his recording stopped at the point where the encounter with the uniformed officers began. According to court documents and widely reported accounts of the incident, there are no video recordings of what happened to Hall and Naes in the moments leading up to their arrests. We do know from other information that they were both arrested and that Hall was badly beaten.
Hall encountered five white officers. Naess encountered an unknown number of Black officers. The two encounters resulted in vastly different outcomes.
What is known is that Hall—a Black undercover police officer—was detained by five white officers. He was severely beaten, sustaining serious injuries that required several surgeries, while Naes—a white undercover officer—was arrested and later released by Black officers without violence and by the book.
Hall’s had surgeries to repair damage to his spine. One of the surgical procedures involved doctors inserting a plate and six screws to help alleviate some of his nerve pain.
Two of the five officers involved in the Hall beating pleaded guilty to charges related to the incident that Hall described as a “free-for-all” and a “Rodney King”-like beating. Charges were also brought against the remaining three St. Louis police officers who chose to fight the charges in a trial that ended with no convictions a few days ago. A federal jury acquitted two of the officers. The jury, 11 white and one Black, deadlocked on a charge against the third.
Introduced into evidence was a text from one of the five officers just before they arrived at the protest that night. It read, “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 sh**heads once the sun goes down and nobody can tell us apart!!!”
The thread running through the argument presented by the defense is that Luther Hall’s behavior and resisting arrest led to the beating. On recorded audio, the arresting officers could be heard saying, “put your hands behind your back” but Hall testified that while they are demanding that he put his hands behind his back, they are, at the same time—standing on his arms.
As much as the defense argues that Hall was at fault, Occam’s Razor says the simplest explanation is usually the right one. This appears to be a case where Hall’s race determined the treatment he got.
Several links below will take you to the local coverage of this case.