A former St. Louis police officer was found not guilty in the 2011 shooting death of a black motorist in wake of a car chase.
Jason Stockley was charged last year with first-degree murder and armed criminal action in the death of 24-year-old Anthony Lamar Smith. He pleaded not guilty to the charges and waived his right to a jury trial, giving Circuit court Judge Timothy Wilson the sole power to decide his fate.
The judge on Friday sided with the former officer, who resigned in 2013, despite the prosecutors’ claims that he carried out a premeditated plan to kill Smith, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Stockley and his partner Brian Bianchi pursued Smith for nearly three miles after catching him in what they suspected was drug deal in a restaurant parking lot back in December 2011. Dash cam video and surveillance footage from the lot sees Smith backing into the officers’ police cruiser before speeding off, sparking the chase.
As the officers were speeding behind Smith, Stockley shouted commands can be heard saying that he’s “going to kill this motherf——” in clips obtained by the St. Louis-Post Dispatch.
Stockley did not deny shouting the phrase during his trial but said he could not remember saying it. Wilson wrote the statement “was not intelligible” and that its “context is not clear.”
The chase, which reached speeds of nearly 90 mph, ended when Stockley told his partner to ram their police vehicle into Smith’s SUV. Bianchi told Stockley that Smith appeared to be reaching for a weapon, according to police reports. Stockley exited the vehicle with a department-issued pistol and an AK-47 rifle — which he was not permitted to carry by the department.
Anthony Lamar Smith and in an undated family photo with his daughter. Smith was fatally shot by St. Louis police in 2011 following a car chase.
Smith attempted to speed off, knocking Stockley sideways. The officer then fired several shots into the Smith’s vehicle with the pistol, striking him five times. Smith returned to the police cruiser for first aid supplies, but when he returned it was already too late.
Stockley then entered Smith’s car to “locate the weapon and render it safe” and removed the ammunition from the silver revolver, according to the police report. Forensic analysis later revealed only Stockley’s DNA was present on the silver revolver he alleged belonged to Smith.
In closing arguments, prosecutors said it was obvious the officer planted the weapon. Video from the incident shows Stockley go into the car as at least 10 other officers stood by, but the view of what he does while he’s inside is obscured.
Two other officers testified they saw Stockley go into the vehicle four times, one of them telling prosecutors he did find in strange at the time, Fox 2 reported.
Stockley maintained there was a struggle before the shooting and that he only fired his weapon in self-defense.
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner told KMOV she was disappointed in the judge’s decision.
In this Dec. 20, 2011 image from a police video obtained by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch shows then-St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley reaching into a duffle bag in the back seat of the police SUV after fatally shooting Anthony Lamar Smith, a black man who was a drug suspect with his department-issued handgun after a high speed chase.
“While officer-involved shooting cases are extremely difficult to prevail in court, I believe we offered sufficient evident that proved beyond a reasonable doub that Jason Stockley intended to kill Mr. Smith,” she said, adding its time to reassess how similar incidents are addressed in the city.
“I understand and appreciate the many challenges that face our city’s police officers. It’s very noble work,” Gardner added. “However, however we need further examination and clarity in the laws that govern the use of deadly force by police officers.”
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, following the verdict, said she was “appalled at what happened to” Smith and that she was “sobered by this outcome.” She also offered her prayers to those “who find no comfort or justice” in the controversial case’s resolve.
“Frustration, anger, hurt, pain, hope and love all intermingle,” she said in statement. “I encourage St. Louisans to show each other compassion, to recognize that we all have different experiences and background and that we all come to this with real feeling and experiences. We are all St. Louisans. We rise and fall together.”
St. Louis interim police chief Lawrence O’Toole urged residents angered by the acquittal to protest and demonstrate the verdict peacefully.
After the decision was handed down some protesters allegedly shouted “If we can’t get no justice, y’all can’t get no peace” before burning a St. Louis Cardinals sweatshirt in the streets, according to CBS.
O’Toole in a statement said his department’s committed to protecting free speech, but that their top priority is to protect the city’s residents.
Activists — with the support of the city’s black clergy — vowed disruptive protests before the verdict was announced Friday morning, according to the newspaper. Gov. Eric Greitens took steps Thursday to activate the Missouri national guard while officers in the area were put on 12-hour shifts. Classes were cancelled and the downtown courthouse and police station were surrounded by barricades.
It’s not the first time St. Louis has faced unrest and protests amid a controversial acquittal. Protests, some of them violent, erupted 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was unarmed at the time, was shot by a white police officer in 2014. The officer was not charged, but he did resign.
Tension surrounding the fatal confrontation has been building, with the case laying dormant for years after it was reviewed by state and federal prosecutors. Criminal charges were eventually filed by then-Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce after she cited new evidence in matter. Prosecutors still have not revealed what the new evidence was, prompting defense to question the existence of such evidence during closing arguments last month.
The city in 2013 settled a civil suit with Smith’s loved ones, paying his fiancee and daughter $ 900,000.