If Christopher Hunt isn't a police officer, "he's guilty of every crime," said Edward Robertson, Hunt's attorney, as the Missouri Supreme Court heard a conviction appeal for charges of excessive force following a 2009 sting operation.
Hunt had been a deputy with the St. Charles County sheriff's department when his actions during a drug case led to conviction of assault, burglary and property damage.
Hunt aided the East Central Missouri Drug Task Force in a 2009 drug bust targeting Phil Alberternst in Montgomery County, who was wanted for making methamphetamines.
When Hunt arrived at the trailer where Alberternst was believed to be, Hunt was accused of kicking down the door, entering the trailer and striking Alberternst.
"We certainly don't say that a police officer can't be guilty of a crime," Robertson said. But "the state suggested he wasn't a police officer at all."
Following his convictions in 2012, Hunt appealed on the grounds that the state misled the jury by suggesting that Hunt may not have been acting as a police officer.
"It's a little bit like the ebola virus," Robertson said. "It spreads throughout a case like this."
Judge Richard Teitelman said that by asking "if he's a police officer," the state "inject[ed] reasonable doubt" into the jury.
State attorney Shaun Mackelprang said that Hunt's status as a police officer was never a question.
The judges also questioned whether there was evidence proving that Hunt had intended to assault Alberternst, and whether a search warrant should have been issued for Hunt to enter the trailer.
Robertson said it would have taken too long to get a search warrant and get back to the trailer, which was located "in the boondocks."
Robertson asked the court to reverse the burglary and property damage convictions and to retry Hunt for assault.
Robertson, a former member of the state Supreme Court, said there are no clear standards for cases in which a police officer is charged with committing a crime in the process of pursuing police work.