St. Louis Judge Refuses To Watch Video Showing Officer Sucker Punching Teenager and Then Clears Him . . . Police Union Calls For His Rehiring

burkeIt is often difficult to get actual charges against a police officer, but former St. Louis Officer Rory Bruce, 35, was an exception. After all, it was a police video that clearly showed him verbally abusing a teenager and then sucker punching him while handcuffed. One would think it would be an easy conviction, even without the testimony of the 16-year-old boy. That is if the judge watched the video. She did not. Judge Teresa Counts Burke showed no reason to actually watch the video before ruling and now the police union is demanding that the department rehire Bruce.


One the video from 2012, Bruce is shown on the left as he pulls the teenager out of the police van with the words “Stand out here with us…you lying piece of shit.” There are words and then a punch from Bruce decks the kids.

The police union appears to have watched a different video. Jeff Roorda with the St. Louis Police Officer’s Association insists that he can see the suspect moving in a threatening manner and Bruce defending himself: “It’s one forearm blow as he’s trained to do.” Bruce later on the video says “I told you I wanted to search you and you came out of the thing and started lunging at me.” There is no lunging that I can see on the video.

The police fired Bruce on the basis of the video and the prosecutors brought charges. However, Burke declined to watch the video. I am not sure why. Clearly it is a problem with no testifying victim but that does not rule out a charge or a conviction. If there is no witness to a bank robbery but a bank video, a judge would not simply refuse the evidence and acquit.  There are various ways to authenticate a video that is taken by a police camera. If the prosecutors failed to authenticate, it is not referenced in articles but such a failure would itself be quite suspicious.

Roorda praises the judge for not watching the video which is describes as a “gotcha-head hunter” tool for cops. He inexplicably states, according to the article below, that such video should only be used to protest officials. Thus, it would seem that the video can only be used as a defense of officers in abuse cases and not as evidence against them. That would seem a bizarre claim but it appears close to what happened in this case.

Now that Burke cleared the officer, Roorda wants him rehired.

By the way, Burke’s partner David Wilson, 28, is also under investigation for striking another teenager in his custody. Both were probationary officers.

Source: Kmov

54 thoughts on “St. Louis Judge Refuses To Watch Video Showing Officer Sucker Punching Teenager and Then Clears Him . . . Police Union Calls For His Rehiring

  1. Thank you Professor, for reporting to your great audience, this case and issues of abuse of power. Bad faith hates exposure to the light of day; because justice may then actually find a way.

  2. I think again that the bar needs to remove the license of this judge. This is such an egregious abuse of power, that she should not be a member of the bar. It is also time for lawyers to stand up against their own bad apples and kick people like this judge out of the legal profession. It should not be up to the voters to do it alone.

  3. One has to wonder about her motives, or is she just lazy? Over the years I have known many judges, and am often bemused by the number of them who were motivated to run for judge because they were such incompetent lawyers they could not make a living in private practice, nor would a big law firm hire them. I have one in mind whose primary qualification seems to be that he looks like a judge, straight out of Central Casting.

  4. Why should a judge look at evidence? She already knew he wasn’t guilty. He is a police officer if he did it its legal! Isn’t that the new law?

  5. Reblogged this on euzicasa and commented:
    Above their own laws: How is it possible? But then, if you don’t punch someone when is down…when are you going to? Animals don’t know any better!

  6. Once again the police thugs get away with using excessive force against a helpless victim. These semi literate morons never seem to get punished for a clear violation of a citizen’s rights.

  7. That is a disturbing video. I do not know what the officers were looking for, but the teen’s shirt was pulled back over his arms by the police and then he was cold cocked by the officer. Not only does this officer need to be in jail, but the judge’s indifference is criminal. She needs to be off the bench and an investigation into any connection she may have with this so-called peace officer.

  8. Judge Burke is an adjunct professor at Fontbonne University and teaches a class on the United States and Missouri constitutions

    What a gd joke that is

  9. Interesting that the judge is condemned without any information as to whether the recording was admissible. It is my understanding from other comments on the case that the prosecution expected to authenticate the recording with the testimony of the other officer present, but did not obtain the needed testimony. If testimony authenticating the recording was not provided, it would have been absolutely improper for the judge to view it. The popular condemnation of the judge for not considering inadmissible evidence is rather frightening.

  10. Lawyers rated her high in the category that applies here:

    Attorneys who responded to the survey questions rated Judge Burke on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 representing “not at all” and 5 representing “completely.”

    She received her highest scores for: efficiently managing her docket (4.48); maintaining and requiring proper order and decorum in the courtroom (4.45); and treating people equally regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, economic status or other factor/displaying fairness and impartiality towards each side of the case (4.43).

    Judge Burke’s lower scores were for: efficiently using pretrial procedures to narrow and define the issues (4.27); stating reasons and applying substantive law in rulings on dispositive motion (4.28); and clearly explaining all oral decisions (4.29).

    (Theresa Counts Burke).

  11. blhlls,
    Now that is an interesting concept. To keep a videotape of bad behavior out, just don’t show up for court. I have an idea there were plenty of people at the police department who could authenticate the recording, given that it has time and date information embedded in the picture. Also, the victims would have been able to testify that the video was a ‘true and accurate representation’ of what happened.

  12. OS: There probably would have been an alternative way of authenticating the recording available, but the burden would be on the prosecution to provide that testimony. It is my understanding that the victim refused to testify, so that option was unavailable. In any event, in the absence of testimony legally sufficient to authenticate the recording, the judge properly refused to consider it. A judge who ignores the rules of evidence because of who the defendant is or what the charges would be a very bad judge.

  13. Gene, I was hoping someone would get it. My freshman year in college our floor had a Hogan’s Heroes cult following. There was one guy who was like Rain Man regarding the show. So, we would all kick in $1. At finals every semester, our “adjunct professor” would prepare a Hogan’s Heroes test, based on the shows during that semester. The highest score got a case of beer. I never won. I enjoyed the show but didn’t obsess on it.

  14. nick,

    I grew up on HH re-runs. I think it’s one of the funniest (and weirdest) shows ever on TV. By all rights, it’s an idea that shouldn’t work, but it does and does so brilliantly. Not many people realize a good number of the cast were Jews who had been in concentration camps and/or fleeing the Nazis themselves, including John Banner (Schultz). I’ve heard there are plans for a film ‘re-boot’ of the franchise in the works, but I just think it would be really hard to match the original cast’s chemistry.

  15. Gene, Interesting fact about the cast, didn’t know that. When the show first aired there was some blowback from former POW’s, saying it wasn’t an appropriate topic for a comedy. Bob Crane was a disc jockey @ our local AM station WBIS, in Bristol, Ct. Did you ever see the flick, Auto Focus? It’s pretty creepy but I liked it. Crane was a real sex addict. Kinnear did a good job, but Willem Defoe was superb as his enabling “friend.” I still believe he killed Crane, although he was acquitted. You’re right about a remake, putting together an ensemble cast like that is unlikely.

  16. Robinh: There is a very big difference between the two judges. In the one referenced in this post, the judge properly refused to view and consider inadmissible evidence as she was legally required to. In the other case you reference, the judge refused to respond to a report that her court officer had just removed a litigant and assaulted her before returning her to the courtroom. That judge had both the authority and an obligation to take action in connection with that report.

  17. Use of videos to protect the officers only. Sadly that would fit in with all the other abuses we see by police and court officers.
    My nephew (30) was writing me he could not believe when I told him about 2 court cases I had, one in small claims, one in common pleas where perjury was proven against the defendant and yet the judge ruled in defendant;s behavior and the proof against them be damned. He thought, as I used to, that recourse in the courts was where the blindfold remained on so that justice was done based on proof. How sad this is becoming less and less so.

  18. From the good judge’s official bio, “… an ex officio board member of Lawyers for Kids”. Har-dee-har-har.

  19. How do you lunge at someone when you are facing the opposite direction?

    If the judge was right in refusing to watch the tape b/c the prosecutor didn’t provide authentication, then the bricks should be thrown at the prosecutor.

  20. From information at another site (Ex-cop law student commenting at Carlos Miller’s Photography is not a Crime), it appears the officer’s partner was given immunity and the prosecutor expected him to provide the testimony to authenticate the recording. While we all know we may need to have alternate ways of authenticating necessary evidence in case a witness goes sideways, I don’t know any experienced trial attorney who hasn’t been caught off guard at least once. If you’re lucky, the trial goes on long enough that you can obtain another witness to cure the deficiency. This trial (a misdemeanor before a judge) was probably very short.

  21. According to the St-Louis Dispatch’s website (the Fowler mentioned is the other cop) The Burke ruling on not authenticating seems ridiculous to me… why would Fowler agree to authenticate a video of he and his partner possibly committing wrongdoing? That’s all it takes to get clear evidence tossed out?? geez… :

    ——–
    “But the video never made it into evidence because the law required prosecutors to authenticate it with someone who had personal knowledge of the events. Bruce refused to testify against himself, on the same constitutional grounds as the teen.

    That left Fowler, who claimed the same but was forced to testify after prosecutors granted him immunity from charges and obtained a last minute order from another judge.

    When Fowler viewed the footage, he testified it differed from his recollection of events. Burke ruled he thus couldn’t authenticate it. That left only the testimony of a few police employees, who couldn’t say much because of hearsay rules.

    The decision on the video brought the complicated case to an abrupt end. “Not guilty,” announced Burke.”
    ———-

  22. So all it takes is an “I don’t remember it that way” and the two officers who were involved are home free? What about the other officer who appears later in the video does he also have convenient memory issues?

    Why does the prosecution have to authenticate a police video?

  23. Authentication requirements apply to any document that a party seeks to have admitted into evidence. The laws vary somewhat from jurisdiction to jurisdiction as to the specific technical requirements. There have always been cases in which relevant evidence was excluded due to an inability to meet authentication requirements. Many years ago, getting a photocopy of a document into evidence was fraught with problems even if there was no dispute that it was an accurate copy. Revisions to applicable law have almost eliminated that issue, though an unwary practitioner can still be caught short. As recordings become more and more available as evidence, we may see similar changes. One problem is that the availability of recordings has been created by advances in technology which also increase the potential that recordings will be falsified or edited in imperceptible ways.

  24. “When Fowler viewed the footage, he testified it differed from his recollection of events”

    Yea, who ya’ gonna’ believe, me or your lying eyes?

    There are two justice systems in St. Louis and there always have been.

  25. blhlls: “One problem is that the availability of recordings has been created by advances in technology which also increase the potential that recordings will be falsified or edited in imperceptible ways.”

    While that is very probably true, and call me cynical, I suspect that concern will act in the favor of the powerful, not the powerless/citizen.

  26. So the judge cannot compel proper testimony from a witness?

    If witness testimony is false then that is perjury as well. He should be tried for such.

  27. lottakatz: I think the wealthy/powerful are always in a better position to utilize procedures or resources. I don’t see any way of eliminating that disparity in the legal system any more than in any other institution. However, I will always respect a judge who enforces the rules of evidence equally regardless of the identity of the accused or the nature of the charges more than one who does not.

  28. G.Mason: A judge can compel a witness to testify or face contempt charges. However, a judge who tries to compel a witness to testify in a certain way makes a mockery of his position. My big problem with the reaction to the judge in this story is that people want her to make decisions to facilitate a desired outcome. However, as the trier of fact the judge is required to determine what the outcome will be after considering all the admitted evidence. Her job is not to browbeat witnesses into giving what she might believe is truthful testimony–it is to disregard testimony she believes is untruthful in coming to her decision. Even if she disregarded the second officer’s testimony as lacking credibility, the original problem remains. There was no witness testimony authenticating the recording so as to permit her to consider its contents.

  29. There’s no much you can do to punish the police in a Police State, which is where we about to go and already are in many cases. However, the person in handcuff certainly has cause for filing a civil lawsuit on the basis of various injuries.

  30. blhlls I find if absurd that a tape in police custody cannot be trusted to be not falsified, even when it implicates the cops acting illegally, against police interest. This is sophistry taken to an extreme. You gotta be kidding me. In that case, NO evidence that police have can be trusted to be accurate.

  31. The underlying concept that documentary evidence must be authenticated is a basic one in our legal system. The specifics are generally governed by statute which establish the technical requirements which must be met before a particular document can be admitted. A judge, acting properly, is not engaging in sophistry. Rather, such a judge requires all the parties to abide by the applicable statutes. There may be an argument for amending the applicable statutes in connection with certain types of documents–over the years many such laws have been amended to make the process less burdensome and costly. However, I would condemn a judge who chose to ignore the rules in order to convict any defendant–whether a police officer charged with excessive force, Julian Assange, or Martin Luther King, Jr.

  32. I was the person who authenticated the videotape or photos I shot as evidence obtained during surveillance. It’s pretty boilerplate. The video is marked as evidence and I’m asked if this is the video/dvd I shot of the plaintiff. I’m then asked if it was always in my custody. I’m asked if the video/photos truly and accurately depicts what I saw and shot. I’m then asked if it was edited. In almost all cases it was edited. I would shoot hours of footage on plaintiffs. I found the best amount of video to show a jury is ~23 minutes, the length of a sitcom sans commercials. I would then be given my unedited footage and asked the same questions regarding chain of custody. Then they’re admitted as evidence. It’s quite routine. The police dept. has to have persons designated as record keepers who could testify and authenticate.

  33. I understand the missing element was the “truly and accurately depicts what I saw” part. Neither the defendant nor the victim testified, and the partner said something along the lines of he didn’t think it was a true and accurate depiction.

  34. smh there goes what’s left of our freedom so now we are designated to pay the police to beat,harass,rape,rob,mug,shoot, abuse us. and have no recourse but to accept it.

  35. Unless we have a transcript of the proceeding we can not judge the judge for being a judge and ruling that a piece of evidence is inadmissible. We should not through rocks at her. Lets be nice here. Bark.

  36. Missouri has a warped criminal “justice” system which might be why the teenager chose not to testify. This incident is the tip of the iceberg; check out freeryanferguson dot com to see how far Missouri goes to *not* correct a wrongful conviction. Very scary.

  37. You have a judge that properly and legally refused to allow evidence that was not and could not be authenticated.

    If the case was about something other than a police officers actions people would be praising the judge.

    “Prosecutors allege it shows Bruce hitting the teen unprompted. Bruce’s attorney, Joe Hogan, planned to argue it showed his client reacting in self-defense when the teen lunged at him, after earlier trying to turn a gun on Bruce’s partner, Jacob Fowler.

    But the video never made it into evidence because the law required prosecutors to authenticate it with someone who had personal knowledge of the events. Bruce refused to testify against himself, on the same constitutional grounds as the teen.

    That left Fowler, who claimed the same but was forced to testify after prosecutors granted him immunity from charges and obtained a last minute order from another judge.

    When Fowler viewed the footage, he testified it differed from his recollection of events. Burke ruled he thus couldn’t authenticate it. That left only the testimony of a few police employees, who couldn’t say much because of hearsay rules.

    The decision on the video brought the complicated case to an abrupt end. “Not guilty,” announced Burke.

    Bruce and Fowler, both probationary officers, were fired after the incident.”

  38. What about the following hypothetical: A thief breaks into a St. Louis jewelry store and night and is caught on the surveillance camera, which streams data back to the security company. There are no eye-witnesses (besides the thief himself, who will not testify). The security company can provide an expert to testify (1) the camera was not tampered with; (2) the camera was in the store that night, pointed at the spot depicted in the recording, and turned on all night; (3) the data streamed back to the security company were properly saved in the company’s server; (4) chain of custody of the server is unassailable. Am I to understand that this surveillance tape is inadmissible because there are no eye-witnesses to authenticate it?

  39. D.S.: The specific legal requirements vary somewhat by state. In many the recording could be authenticated with the type of testimony you cite if accompanied by testimony establishing that the recording could not have been tampered with. Usually such testimony requires a witness with technical expertise beyond the knowledge necessary just to install or operate the equipment, and many police departments don’t have an employee with tthe required level of expertise. Arranging for the testimony can be expensive and difficult, depending on the availability of the needed expert. The prosecuting attorney probably hadn’t made such arrangements as she expected to authenticate it with the other officer’s testimony.

  40. I suppose the silver lining is that plaintiff’s counsel in the subsequent civil action will likely not make the same mistake. Of course, that’s only if the excessive force claim doesn’t fall to qualified immunity…

  41. Why does the video need authentication? It was recorded on official police equipment which is paid for by the taxpayers and installed in a official police vehicle. That to me is a moot point!

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