Six years ago former St. Louis Police officer Jason Stockley shot and killed Anthony Lamar Smith after a car chase in North St. Louis. Earlier this year prosecutors charged Stockley, who is white, with first-degree murder, alleging he planted a gun in Smith’s car.
On Friday, Stockley was acquitted of the crime, and protesters have taken to the streets in St. Louis to again voice rage and frustration about the shooting death of a black motorist.
“Not firmly convinced”
It was December 2011, and Stockley and his partner suspected Smith was dealing drugs outside of a fast-food restaurant in north St. Louis.
Smith drove away and Stockley and his partner gave chase. During the pursuit a dashcam recorded Stockley telling his partner he’d kill Smith. He then told the other officer to ram Smith’s vehicle.
Stockley got out of the vehicle, went to Smith’s and fired five shots, which turned out to be fatal.
Initially the officer wasn’t charged with the crime. Stockley, who’s no longer on the force, had a bench trial before Circuit Court Judge Timothy Wilson that ended last month. The city’s been on edge ever since that time.
In Friday’s verdict Judge Wilson wrote, “This Court, as the trier of fact, is simply not firmly convinced of defendant’s guilt.”
Wilson’s verdict also says the state did not prove that Stockley acted beyond a reasonable doubt of self-defense, and that the judge saw no proof of Stockley planting a gun in the car.
Prosecuting Attorney Kimberly Gardiner says her office presented a case that showed Stockley WAS guilty.
“We cannot let the naysayers and the guardians of the status quo let us miss this opportunity to seek real change,” she says.
Smith family attorney Al Watkins says he’s appalled by the judge’s decision. He finds Stockley’s story of the shooting difficult to believe.
“I’m sorry. I don’t buy it,” he says. “I don’t buy it for a heartbeat.”
Protests and reactions
Immediately following the verdict protesters took to the streets in downtown St. Louis.
“To say that it’s heartbreaking would be too much of an understatement,” says TK Benson, one of the protesters. “But this generation of black people need to wake up and realize that the system has proven time after time after time that it is against us when it comes to stuff like this.”
Like the protests that erupted in Ferguson following Michael Brown’s shooting death at the hands of then-officer Darren Wilson, activists vow to protest throughout this weekend and into the coming weeks if necessary.