Jason Stockley, the former Missouri police officer who shot and killed Anthony Lamar Smith in 2011, on Friday became the latest cop to be acquitted of murder in spite of video that showed Stockley saying he would kill Smith before shooting him at close range multiple times. The acquittal was expected to trigger protests in St. Louis, just a few miles from Ferguson, Missouri, where Michael Brown was shot and killed by police in 2014. While video evidence from body cameras, dash cameras, surveillance cameras, and mobile phones has increased the frequency with which cops are charged with murder and manslaughter since 2015, it is not leading to more convictions.
Former St. Louis Officer, Jason Stockley, Acquitted in Shooting of Black Driver
By TIM O’NEIL and MITCH SMITH, The New York Times
SEPT. 15, 2017
A white former police officer who fatally shot a 24-year-old black man here after a high-speed chase in 2011 was acquitted of first-degree murder on Friday, rekindling protests in a region that has been at the center of the country’s debate over police tactics and race relations.
The verdict in the case against the former St. Louis officer, Jason Stockley, in the death of Anthony Lamar Smith had been tensely awaited. Concerns that the outcome might set off violent protests and memories of unrest over a different police shooting in Ferguson, only a few miles away, were evident: barricades were erected near courthouses, police officers were assigned longer shifts, and Gov. Eric Greitens placed the Missouri National Guard on standby.
Within minutes after the verdict was made public, protesters gathered outside the courthouse and began marching through downtown. “The system is so obviously broken that to just sit back and be complacent is wrong,” said Kelly McBride, 31, who was among the marchers. “There is all of this evidence, and to still get a verdict of not guilty just shows how broken everything is.”
The St. Louis police said at midday that the protests had been largely peaceful, but there were reports of intermittent problems. One person was arrested for damaging a police vehicle, the authorities said, and rocks were thrown at a bus with police officers.
Adding to a crescendo of tension over the case was how drawn out it has been. The shooting took place in 2011, although Jennifer Joyce, then the city’s top prosecutor, brought the case nearly five years later, in 2016, citing new, unspecified evidence. And the trial itself ended in early August, but the judge in the bench trial, Timothy Wilson, of the St. Louis Circuit, waited close to a month to announce his decision. After the verdict, several school districts in the St. Louis area announced early dismissals and canceled weekend activities.
Mr. Stockley’s acquittal is the latest example of a police officer facing criminal charges in a shooting but the case ending without a conviction.
At the trial in August, prosecutors described Mr. Stockley as an out-of-control officer who chased Mr. Smith for three miles at speeds of more than 80 miles an hour, shot him without provocation and then planted a .38-caliber revolver in Mr. Smith’s car. The shooting was premeditated, prosecutors argued, pointing to a recording device inside the police car that had captured Mr. Stockley saying to his partner, not long before the shooting: “Going to kill this,” person, he said using an expletive, “don’t you know it.”
Judge Wilson said in his ruling that people “say all kinds of things in the heat of the moment,” and that the statement made by Mr. Stockley “can be ambiguous depending on the context.”
The defense argued that Mr. Stockley acted reasonably in fatally shooting a suspect in a drug deal that the officer had tried to stop before the car chase took place. Defense lawyers have said that the officer believed Mr. Smith was armed, and was reaching for a gun — the weapon that was found in his car after the shooting. Mr. Smith was shot five times.
The encounter, in December 2011, began when Officer Stockley and his partner, Brian Bianchi, driving a police S.U.V., believed that Mr. Smith was involved in a drug deal in a Church’s Chicken parking lot and attempted to approach him, the police said.
As he moved toward Mr. Smith’s car, Mr. Stockley carried his own AK-47, an unauthorized weapon, as well as his service gun. According to department policy, officers are forbidden from carrying personal weapons.
Officer Stockley and Officer Bianchi said that they saw Mr. Smith holding a handgun. As Mr. Smith sped away in his Buick, Mr. Stockley fired seven shots with his service weapon.
The second, fatal confrontation occurred not far away, a short time later.
In his verdict, delivered in a 30-page written order, Judge Wilson said he was “simply not firmly convinced of defendant’s guilt,” adding later: “This court, in conscience, cannot say that the state has proven every element of murder beyond a reasonable doubt or that the state has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant did not act in self-defense.”
Judge Wilson also expressed doubts about the prosecution’s claim that a gun was planted on Mr. Smith, writing “that an urban heroin dealer not in possession of a firearm would be an anomaly.”
On social media, some zeroed in on that statement, calling it clear proof of bias by the judge, while others pointed to the verdict as a sign of broad failings of the justice system.
Mr. Stockley, who is in his mid-30s, resigned from the St. Louis police department in 2013. Before joining the police force, he served in the Army and did a 15-month tour of duty in Iraq.
The killing resulted in a wrongful-death settlement of $900,000, brought on behalf of Mr. Smith’s young daughter.
Because Cops armed with personal AK-47s never carry .22 or .38 caliber drop guns to plant on a suspect, especially if it’s an African American.
Shameful. Judge Timothy Wilson should be impeached and disbarred.