Protestors take to the streets of St. Louis after a police officer is found not guilty in shooting death of a black man.
Friday [September 15], a Missouri City judge ruled in favor of Jason Stockley in the case of the shooting death of black motorist Anthony Lamar Smith, ruling that the former police officer was not guilty of Smith’s murder. Naturally, the verdict sparked an onslaught of protests in the city that bled over in Saturday night, prompting at least 38 arrests in throngs of hundreds who originally set out for a peaceful march that quickly turned violent, going so far as to prompting the use of tear gas on crowds by law enforcement.
Stockley was charged with first-degree murder in the 2011 death of the 24-year old Smith when Stockley, then an officer with the St. Louis department, and his partner Brian Bianchi attempted to stop Smith under the suspicion of a drug transaction in a restaurant parking lot. Bianchi alerted his partner that Smith was allegedly reaching for a firearm. Stockley then exited the police SUV with his department-issued handgun while violating policy by also carrying his personal AK-47 pistol.
According to the officers, Smith attempted speed away and in doing so, a high speed chase of up tp 80 mph ensued until the police vehicle eventually crashed into Smith’s Buick. Despite the crash all parties remained alive until the officers approached Smith’s car with their weapons drawn. Believing Smith to be reaching for a handgun, Stockley shot him in the chest, a shot that would prove to be fatal.
During the trial, prosecutors asserted that the handgun found at the scene was planted by Stockley in an effort to further criminalize Smith and justify his actions, but the claims held no ground in the end.
"This court ... is simply not firmly convinced of the defendant's guilt,” wrote Judge Timothy J. Wilson in a 30-page decision. "Agonizingly, this court has (pored) over the evidence again and again."
The verdict also comes as a shock given the evidence that indicates that Stockley told his partner that "we're killing this motherfucker" during the chase, an exchange recorded via the vehicle's dashcam.
"People say all kinds of things in the heat of the moment or while in stressful situations, and whether Stockley’s statement that “we’re killing this motherfucker,” which can be ambiguous depending on the context, constituted a real threat of action or was a means of releasing tension has to be judged by his subsequent conduct," Wilson reasons in his ruling. "The court does not believe Stockley’s conduct immediately following the end of the pursuit is consistent with the conduct of a person intentionally killing another person unlawfully."