By Brandie Piper, Sam Clancy, and Jacob Long
Published Sept. 15, 2017 on USAToday.com.
ST. LOUIS — A white former St. Louis police officer was acquitted Friday of murder in the fatal shooting of a black man following a high-speed chase six years ago, sparking protests in the city.
Protesters broke a window and splattered red paint at St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson’s home, and police used tear gas to disperse the crowd. Several hundred chanting protesters marched to the house Friday night.
Two officers were taken to a hospital with injuries sustained from thrown bricks, according to the St. Louis Police Department.
In a video statement posted on Twitter early Friday, Interim Chief Lawrence O’Toole said that nine city officers suffered injuries, ranging from a broken jaw to a separated shoulder. O’Toole also reported that one Missouri State Highway patrol officer sustained injuries.
23 arrests were made before 6 p.m. CT, O’Toole said, adding that the department didn’t know the total number of arrests made after that time.
Chief O’Toole & Mayor Krewson update citizens on tonight’s demonstrations. https://t.co/7thVAbntCX
— St. Louis, MO Police (@SLMPD) September 16, 2017
The protests started after a judge found Jason Stockley not guilty following a bench trial in early August.
The St. Louis Metropolitan police officer was charged with first-degree murder and armed criminal action in May 2016, about 4 1/2 years after shooting and killing Anthony Lamar Smith on Dec. 11, 2011. Stockley opted for a bench trial – a trial without a jury – before veteran Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson.
On Friday, Wilson made his decision, finding Stockley not guilty on both counts.
Al Watkins, attorney for Smith’s fiancée and daughter, said the family is devastated and appalled by the judge’s ruling. Watkins said he and the family take particular issue with a statement in the ruling they consider to be prejudicial: “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.”
“We all know what ‘urban’ means. Urban means ‘black.’ I find that to be offensive,” Watkins said. “I find that to be demonstrative of a judge who thinks that those who are reading this verdict are morons.”
Watkins says his clients are calling for peaceful protests.
After the decision was announced protesters started to gather at Market Street and Tucker Boulevard, near the civil courts building downtown. Among the protesters is Michael Brown Sr., who said the ruling brings back emotions from his son’s case.
“I would definitely tell them not to never give up, you know, stay with faith, and hopefully something else could change. That’s what I’ve been banking on right there for myself. They’re just words of encouragement that keep me still moving and fighting for what I believe is right,” Brown said.
Protesters then moved to the entrance ramp to I-64, but St. Louis police officers with bicycles gathered to prevent them from impeding highway traffic.
Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner said she was disappointed by the judge’s decision because prosecutors presented sufficient evidence of guilt.
“This verdict will not stop me,” Gardner said. She also called for protests to remain peaceful. “Destruction of our community is not the answer.”
The original incident report said Stockley and his partner saw what they believed to be a drug deal behind a Church’s Chicken. When Stockley approached, one of the men ran off and Smith fled in his car.
According to the probable cause statement, Stockley shot at Smith’s car before pursuing him by car. Stockley’s partner was driving the police SUV, which chased Smith at more than 80 mph. According to the statement, Stockley is heard on police cruiser camera saying he was “going to kill this [expletive], don’t you know it.”
After Smith’s car slowed down near an intersection, Stockley told the other officer to ram the car, the probable cause statement said. Shockley then approached the car and fired five shots, which all hit Smith. Smith died from the injuries.
The probable cause statement said a gun was recovered from Smith’s car, but was found to only have Stockley’s DNA on it.
Stockley was charged May 16, 2016, by then-St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce and arrested in Houston, his home at the time.
“We believe we have the evidence we need to prove Mr. Stockley’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law,” Joyce said in a press release at the time.
On Aug. 1 — the first day of the trial — prosecutors laid out their argument, saying Stockley “executed” Smith after the chase, then planted a gun in the slain drug suspect’s vehicle as an excuse for opening fire. It was the first time the prosecution revealed their belief that Stockley planted the gun.
But Stockley’s attorney Neil Bruntrager said both officers saw the gun inside the car before the chase started. Stockley opened fire only after Smith refused commands to put up his hands and reached along the seat “in the area where the gun was,” Bruntrager said.
In testimony on his own behalf on Aug. 8, Stockley said he “had to do what he had to do” and “would violate” any policy if the policy put his life in jeopardy. He also said Smith’s “threat to society was so high, you have to do whatever you can to stop it.”
The prosecution described a very different scene, with Assistant Circuit Attorney Aaron Levinson saying Stockley shot Smith five times, including once while standing six inches from him, which Levinson called the “kill shot.” He said Stockley then returned to the Buick multiple times.
In his testimony, Stockley denied firing any execution-style “kill shot” and defended the trips to the car.
He said one trip was made to retrieve a Quick Clot kit to help stop any potential mass external bleeding. He said he placed it in his pocket and never used it because, upon visual inspection, Smith didn’t have a lot of blood outside his body.
He described his emotional state at the time as “rattled” and “not a good human response.”
“I had just shot someone,” he said.
Stockley also defended entering Smith’s car to retrieve the firearm he believed was in there. “Who better than me to look in the car?” he said.