Cop gets five years for kicking in the door when he didn't have a warrant
A St. Charles County sheriff's deputy was sentenced Friday to five years in prison for breaking the law while he and other officers were at a Middletown, Mo., home to apprehend a wanted meth cook.
In August, a jury found Christopher E. Hunt, 38, guilty of felony burglary and misdemeanor assault and property damage after a three-day trial that pitted police officer against police officer.
The charges stemmed from the Feb. 5, 2009, arrest of Phillip Alberternst, who was wanted on several felonies related to meth-making. Hunt and three other members of the St. Charles County Regional Drug Task Force were assisting members of the East Central Drug Task Force — which serves Warren, Audrain and Montgomery counties — with the arrest.
In arguments during the trial, Montgomery County Prosecutor Nicole Volkert said officers had agreed to try a consensual search because they didn't have a search warrant, but when Hunt showed up later, he kicked in a porch door and beat "a helpless, naked man" who was not resisting. The burglary charge stemmed from him going into the home.
Hunt plans to appeal his case, and he remains free after posting 10 percent of a $100,000 bail.
St. Charles County officials tried to write a check for the 10 percent, but Circuit Judge Keith Sutherland would not allow it. "I don't know whether it's normal or not, but we're supporting our people," County Executive Steve Ehlmann said later. "People don't understand what a tough job these guys have."
Ehlmann said Hunt then paid $5,000 of the bail money, and St. Charles County Sheriff Tom Neer put up the other half.
At the sentencing, Hunt broke down several times while reading a statement in which he detailed his military service with the Marines and his lifelong desire to be a police officer. He said on the day of Alberternst's arrest, he felt everyone around him was in danger.
"I had to decide in a matter of seconds what it took jurors five hours to weigh," he said. "My intention that night was not assault, it was safety."
Hunt's wife also testified on his behalf, but Sutherland did not let Neer or Ehlmann get on the stand after Volkert said they weren't listed as potential witnesses.
Volkert asked that Hunt get 15 years for the burglary charge, in part because he is a police officer.
"This is the type of person who makes other people doubt the entire system," she said.
Hunt's attorney, Joseph McCulloch, argued for probation. "His law enforcement career is ended; the ability to support his family is crippled," he said. "I don't know what message putting him in jail would send."
But Sutherland said he agreed with the jurors that Hunt had gone to the scene that night with the intent to get revenge on Alberternst, then "made up facts to make himself look good."
He said it was common knowledge that police officers stick together, but in this case officers from four different agencies had testified against Hunt.
"That's very telling to me," Sutherland said.
He also said that he didn't doubt that Hunt loved his job and was a brave man.
"But it appears that this defendant was intoxicated with the power of the badge," he said.
Three other St. Charles County officers — William S. Rowe III, Dion E. Wilson and Deric Dull — also are charged with misdemeanor counts of assault and making a false report in the arrest. No trial date has been set in those cases.