Three white St. Louis police officers are on trial this week over their alleged roles in assaulting an undercover black colleague during a 2017 protest
ST. LOUIS – An all-white jury was appointed to trial three white St. Louis police officers who are alleged to have assaulted a black officer who worked undercover as a protester in 2017.
For one, the trial is taking place in the federal court for the Eastern District of Missouri.
This means that jurors will be drawn from Counties of Crawford, Dent, Franklin, Gasconade, Jefferson, Lincoln, Maries, Phelps, St. Charles, St. François, St. Louis, Warren, Washington, and the City of St. Louis.
And that means there is less chance of drawing a diverse jury as these counties are mostly white rural areas.
The jury pool for this jury began with around 80 people.
There were only four blacks among them: three black women and one black man.
As is customary, each juror is randomly assigned a number – a number that has been found to be decisive in the final selection of that jury.
If every juror is dismissed, those with the lowest number will be more likely to be represented on the jury, as there are 12 jurors and four alternates.
If your number is 30 but the first 30 jurors are fired behind you, now you’ve gone to the front of the line to take a seat, and so on.
In the first round of dismissals, defense lawyers and prosecutors can deter candidates by asking them questions about their background and ability to be fair and impartial.
In this first phase, they must dismiss the jury “for an important reason”.
In the next phase, however, both sides have only a limited number of strikes known as the Peremptorist Challenges.
Ultimately, four black jurors made it into the Peremptorist Challenge phase. Three black women and one black man.
At this point, prosecutors can basically ask juries to go on strike without having to say why.
The prosecutors received eight peremptorist challenges.
Each defender got four. In this case, there are three defense attorneys, so the defense was allowed to beat 12 jurors for no reason.
The prosecution beat eight white jurors.
Defense attorneys asked that three of the four black jurors be beaten – the three who were low enough to be among the final 12 jurors. The number of the fourth was higher, so he would likely remain a substitute.
First assistant US attorney, Carrie Costantin, immediately invoked a Batson challenge that essentially compels attorneys to state the “racially neutral” or “gender neutral” reasons they want to strike someone on the jury.
Defense attorney Scott Rosenblum disapproved of Costantin’s use of Batson, noting that defense attorneys are typically the ones who invoke Batson challenges in federal courts when their clients are black and prosecutors are trying to beat black jurors.
First District Judge Catherine Perry was not amused and ordered defense attorneys to give cause for the dismissals.
A woman’s nephew was represented by Rogers in an unrelated case. Another woman said she would not feel comfortable living around someone who was involved in a case she had decided, even though she did not know if any of the officers lived near her. And the third woman’s father had been arrested by St. Louis police officers.
Perry then asked prosecutors how they would deal with the Batson challenge, and Costantin said she would ask defense attorneys to choose another juror to strike.
But the number of the lone black juror made her sit down with the 12 head judges or the four deputies.
So Rosenblum immediately asked one of the white alternative jurors to be beaten – and pushed the black woman into the alternative pool.
Costantin then asked to suppress the jury all together, but Perry said she had no choice but to obey the law and keep the jury as selected.
Rosenblum insisted that defense strikes were “not a model”.
“We’re just trying to find the best and fairest jury for our customers,” he told the court.
But a potential juror didn’t buy it.
Robert Fischer said he saw only white jurors being recalled to the courtroom, despite being among a group of around 30 potential jurors, some of whom he referred to as people of color.
Fischer is Latinx, which means that he identifies as a gender neutral Spanish person.
He also lives near Cherokee Street in town.
He said that all of the facts that led to the jury’s final selection “reveal the lack of diversity”.
“An unjust representation can change the outcome of the overall procedure, which then creates new precedents,” said Fischer in an interview after his dismissal. “You then just create a domino effect.
“It is a racially charged case. Three white officers and one African American officer … Regardless of what it is, it is still important to have that diversity for a court case. “
There is still the possibility of a black juror taking a seat.
Should any of the judges be disqualified in this process, which is expected to take another week, the remaining black woman will be the first substitute to join the jury.