A judge acquitted a white former St. Louis police officer Friday in the death of a black man who was fatally shot following a high-speed chase in 2011.
The acquittal of Jason Stockley in the death of 24-year-old Anthony Lamar Smith came amid concerns of significant unrest, but St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson wrote that he was bound by the Code of Judicial Conduct to not be swayed by “partisan interests, public clamor or fear of criticism.”
Stockley, who shot Smith five times, was charged with first-degree murder. The officer said he saw Smith holding a gun and felt he was in imminent danger, but prosecutors said Stockley planted a gun in Smith’s car after he shot him.
“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 the defendant did not act in self-defense,” Wilson wrote.
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner said she was disappointed.
“While officer-involved shooting cases are extremely difficult to prevail in court, I believe we offered sufficient evidence that proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Jason Stockley intended to kill Mr. Smith,” Gardner said in a written statement.
Assistant Circuit Attorney Robert Steele emphasized during the trial last month that police dashcam video of the chase captured Stockley saying he was “going to kill this (expletive), don’t you know it.” Less than a minute later, the officer fatally shot Smith. Stockley’s lawyer dismissed the comment as “human emotions” amid a dangerous police pursuit.
Stockley, 36, could have been sentenced to up to life in prison without parole. He left St. Louis’ police force in 2013 and moved to Houston.
It is unusual for officers to be charged with killing suspects while on duty, and few officers have been convicted in such deaths. Stockley requested that the case be heard by a judge rather than a jury despite objections from prosecutors.
Ahead of the verdict, activists in St. Louis threatened civil disobedience if Stockley were acquitted, including possible efforts to shut down highways. Amid the growing uneasiness, the mayor and an attorney for Smith’s fiance called for calm. Gov. Eric Greitens met with and assured black faith leaders that peaceful protesters’ rights would be protected, but later stressed that violence wouldn’t be tolerated.
Barricades went up on Aug. 28 around police headquarters, the courthouse where the trial was…