DID THE OFFICER PLANT THE GUN?
The officers were investigating what appeared to be a drug transaction in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant. The car sped away and a high-speed chase ensued. Police slammed their SUV into Smith’s car. Stockley then got out and fired five shots into Smith’s car, killing him. A handgun was found in the car after the shooting.
Prosecutors argued the presence of Stockley’s DNA — and absence of Smith’s DNA — on the gun proved the gun must have been planted by the officer. They also noted curious details after the shooting, including Stockley digging into a bag in the back seat of the police SUV before returning to Smith’s car.
But the defense countered that Stockley heard his partner yell “gun” and saw the driver’s hand on a gun as the car sped by him. Stockley testified he did not draw his service weapon and fire until he saw Smith reaching around inside the vehicle after it was stopped. He said Smith changed his demeanor, suggesting he found the gun.
Stockley testified that after the shooting he found the gun tucked down between the seat and the center console, and he rendered the gun safe by unloading cartridges from the cylinder and then left the gun and cartridges on the passenger seat.
In his ruling, Wilson wrote that “a fact issue that is central” to the case is whether Smith had the gun when he was shot. He found the state’s contention that the officer planted the gun is not supported by evidence.
As for Stockley digging around in a bag in the police SUV, Stockley testified that he retrieved a “quick clot” pack, a medical item designed to stop serious bleeding, and put it in his shirt pocket. In the police video showing Stockley looking in the bag, a viewer can’t see what he’s doing or what he might have taken out of the bag.
The judge found the idea that Stockley took a gun from the police SUV to Smith’s car not credible. A full-sized revolver was too large for the officer to hide in his pants pockets and he was not wearing a jacket, the judge said. If the gun had been tucked into his belt, it would have been visible on a bystander’s video that showed Stockley walking between the police car and Smith’s car, he found.
Wilson also noted none of the officers standing next to the vehicle were called to testify that Stockley planted a gun. And he recounted witness testimony that the absence of a person’s DNA on a gun does not mean that person did not touch the gun.
“Finally, the Court observes, based on its nearly thirty years on the bench, that an urban heroin dealer not in possession of a firearm would be an anomaly,” the judge wrote.