Ex-St. Louis o∞cer found not guilty of mur­der

The Washington Post - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY MARK BER­MAN AND WES­LEY LOWERY

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.

JEFF ROBERSON/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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