Outraged lawmakers and activists urged peaceful protest as Missouri’s governor put the National Guard on standby after a former St. Louis police officer was found not guilty today in the shooting nearly six years ago of an African-American man.
“Once again, another young black man dies at the hands of a police officer with no consequences,” St. Louis congressman Wm. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) said in a statement. “Jason Stockley acted as judge, jury and executioner. He violated multiple department regulations, and he showed a total disregard for the life of my constituent, Anthony Lamar Smith.”
Clay said people “must demand changes in local law enforcement to ensure all lives are respected and honored.”
“Black Lives Matter, and that declaration is not meant to diminish or denigrate the value of any other group,” he added. “It is simply an honest statement of the ugly and very painful truth that in America, in 2017, some lives are still worth more than other lives.”
Smith, 24, was killed in the early afternoon of Dec. 20, 2011. According to statements from the two officers on patrol that day, Stockley saw two African-American men standing near the entrance to a fast-food restaurant and thought they may have been conducting a drug transaction. One of the men went inside the restaurant while Smith got into a silver Buick, which had been blocked by the police cruiser when it parked, and struck the cop car while trying to pull out in a five-point turn and drive off.
One of the officers broke the driver’s side window and said he “alerted” Stockley that he saw what he thought was a gun on the passenger seat. Stockley was knocked “sideways” by the Buick and opened fire as Smith pulled out of the parking lot, shattering the car’s back window. The officers then pursued his car for three minutes until Smith spun out in the rain and the police car hit the Buick, deploying the airbags in Smith’s car. Stockley’s partner said the airbags were obscuring their view of the driver but he was only showing his left hand while his right hand was down toward the center console. Stockley shot Smith in the chest, his partner recounted.
According to the autopsy report, Smith was shot on the left side of his neck, the left side of his chest, left mid-flank, left lower lateral flank and his left forearm. He tested negative for drugs and alcohol. A bag of heroin was found in the car.
A sergeant’s report says Stockley told him that, after killing Smith, he had grabbed the gun he saw on the passenger seat, cleared it and set it back down because he thought bystanders might grab it and try to shoot the officers. Prosecutors charged that Stockley planted an unloaded .38-caliber revolver — a gun bearing only the officer’s DNA, not Smith’s — and three cartridges in the car to clear himself of wrongdoing in the shooting. Stockley was carrying a personal AK-47 that day that he was not allowed to carry while on duty.
Smith’s fiancee said she was on an open cell phone line with Smith at the time and said she believes he was originally seen reaching for his phone — the silver object described in reports at the restaurant scene that officers said they thought was a gun — instead of a weapon.
Stockley left the department in 2013. He wasn’t charged with first-degree murder until 2016, when new evidence was brought to light. The former officer opted for a bench trial instead of leaving it to a jury.
The judge’s ruling notes that about 45 seconds before the pursuit ended Stockley was heard on the police radio saying “we’re killing this motherfucker, don’t you know.” Prosecutors said that this illustrated intent, and said the final, close-range shot that struck Smith in the neck was a “kill shot” from Stockley.
“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,” Judge Timothy Wilson wrote. “The Court does not believe Stockley’s conduct immediately following the end of the pursuit is consistent with the conduct of a persona intentionally killing another person unlawfully.”
State Rep. Michael Butler (D-St. Louis), the chairman of the Missouri House’s Minority Caucus, said he was “appalled at our local justice system” and will “stand in solidarity with all that will non-violently react.”
“This not guilty verdict of a police officer who violently killed a citizen is another slap in the face to the black community in St. Louis. And a shot in the heart to the family of the victim,” Butler said in a statement. “This system and all the politicians calling for peace are ignoring the pain this verdict causes our communities.”
“Anthony Lamar Smith is dead from a violent act and you want us to be peaceful? You want us to not feel anger? The very people paid to protect us are killing us, paid to make peace are perpetuating violence, and we are supposed to be peaceful?” he added. “We will be non-violent but we will not settle on peace. No justice. No peace.”
Smith’s fiancee Christina Wilson, appearing at a news conference with Gov. Eric Greitens (R) Thursday evening, appealed for calm. “However it goes, I ask for peace,” she said.
Greitens asked that protesters “not turn that pain into violence,” as “one life has been lost in this case, and we do not need more bloodshed.” The governor put the Missouri National Guard on standby as “a necessary precaution.”
Today in a statement, Greitens said, “We know this verdict causes pain for many people. 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.”