Ex-St. Louis o∞cer found not guilty of murder
More than a dozen people were arrested Friday as hundreds of demonstrators in the St. Louis region marched into the night following the acquittal of a white former police officer who was charged with murder last year for fatally shooting a black driver after a car chase.
Prosecutors charged Jason Stockley, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department officer, with murder for killing Anthony Lamar Smith in December 2011. According to the probable cause statement, Stockley was caught saying he was “going to kill” the suspect and was heard telling another officer to drive into Smith’s slowing car.
The court document, submitted by the St. Louis circuit attorney, said Stockley then approached Smith’s window and fired five times into the car, hitting Smith “with each shot” and killing him. In addition, prosecutors say, there was a gun found in Smith’s car, but it was later determined to have DNA only from Stockley.
State and local officials say they have been preparing for unrest following Stockley’s acquittal Friday, particularly given the demonstrations that came after other police shootings and decisions not to file charges in St. Louis and across the country.
Judge Timothy Wilson, the circuit judge who heard the case in a bench trial, acquitted Stockley on the murder charge as well as a charge of armed criminal action in a 30-page order released Friday.
Wilson wrote that he was “simply not firmly convinced” of Stockley’s guilt, saying that he went over the case’s evidence repeatedly. Wilson said he was not convinced that the state proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Stockley “did not act in self-defense,” as the former officer had claimed.
Neil J. Bruntrager, an attorney for Stockley, said the former officer felt “obvious relief” at the result Friday.
In a telephone interview, Bruntrager said the judge’s detailed opinion explaining the verdict was his “best effort in that regard to make sure people understand why he did what he did.”
“That to me is invaluable,” he said. “Because if you read this, if you truly read this, you can’t come away with any other conclusion other than what he concluded.”
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) on Thursday put the state’s National Guard on standby in advance of the verdict and potential protests.
“We know this verdict causes pain for many people,” Greitens said in a statement Friday. “We have been in touch with city and county officials, and the state of Missouri will continue to assist them. I’m committed to protecting everyone’s constitutional right to protest peacefully, while also protecting people’s lives, homes, and communities. For anyone who protests, please do so peacefully.”
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson (D) said in a statement Friday that she is “appalled” by what happened to Smith. “I am sobered by this outcome. Frustration, anger, hurt, pain, hope and love all intermingle,” she wrote. “I will continue my work to create a more equitable community.”
The potential for unrest has gripped the St. Louis region, which was rocked in 2014 when an officer in Ferguson shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager. That shooting prompted intense, sometimes violent protests, as did the decision months later not to indict that officer. Brown’s case, and the protests that followed, in many ways kick-started the nationwide focus on how police officers use deadly force, particularly against blacks.
Since Ferguson, police shootings and uses of force — and decisions not to charge the officers in most of the cases — have set off protests in New York, Baltimore, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Charlotte and other cities.
Stockley was charged last year after the St. Louis police and the FBI found new evidence, according to the circuit attorney, who did not disclose what that was.
Prosecutors said during the trial that they believe Stockley planted a gun on Smith after the shooting. Attorneys for Stockley said the officer acted in self-defense because he feared Smith was going to shoot him. Stockley denied planting the gun in Smith’s car.
Wilson wrote that he did not believe evidence supported the prosecution’s argument that the officer planted the gun.
Protesters rally Friday night in St. Louis after a judge acquitted Jason Stockley, a white former police officer, of first-degree murder in the 2011 shooting death of black motorist Anthony Lamar Smith.