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Former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley was acquitted of first degree murder on Friday morning; the charges stemmed from the 2011 death of Anthony Lamar Smith, a black man whom Stockley shot and killed during a police chase.
Protestors are already taking to the streets to protest the verdict in Missouri, which was rocked by racial tensions three years ago after police shot and killed a young black man in Ferguson.
Here is what you need to know about Jason Stockley.
1. During The Incident, Stockley Told His Partner He Was “Going To Kill This (Expletive), Don’t You Know It”
St. Louis Police reported that Stockley and his partner, Brian Bianchi, saw Smith participating in what looked like a drug deal on December 20, 2011 at a Church’s Chicken in Northwest St. Louis. Stockley and Bianchi approached Smith’s vehicle, at which time Stockley fired his police-issue Beretta when Smith allegedly reached for something inside his car, provoking fears that he was reaching for a gun.
At the time of the exchange, Stockley was also carrying his personal AK-47 in addition to his police-issue Beretta, a violation of policy for St. Louis police.
Smith fled the scene and the officers pursued, at times reaching speeds of 80 m.p.h. According to court documents filed in 2016, Stockley reportedly said over the dispatch radio, “going to kill this motherf*****, you know it,” and urging his partner to ram their police SUV into Smith’s car as it was coming to a stop. After approaching the suspect’s vehicle, Stockley fired five shots into the car, killing Smith.
A handgun and heroin were later found in Smith’s car.
2. Charges Weren’t Filed Against Stockley Until 2016
Though the incident occurred in December of 2011, Stockley was not indicted and arrested until May 2016.
City Attorney Jennifer Joyce first filed a complaint to officially charge Stockley with first degree murder, which was later approved by a grand jury and an indictment was issued:
After shooting at the victim A.S.’s car at Riverview and Thekla, the Defendant former police officer Jason Stockley and another police officer chased the victim at speeds over 80 miles per hour. The Defendant was the passenger in the police SUV. While in pursuit, the police SUV crashed, backed up and continued following A.S.’s vehicle. During the pursuit, the defendant is heard saying “going to kill this motherfucker, don’t you know it.” The victim’s car was slowing to a stop. At that time, the Defendant is heard telling the other police officer to “Hit him right now” at which point the driver slams the police SUV into the victim’s car. The Defendant then approached the victim’s car on the driver’s side and shot five times into the car, striking the victim A.S. with each shot. The victim died as a result of the gunshot wounds. A gun was recovered from the victim’s car but was later determined by lab analysis to have only the Defendant’s DNA on it.
“The department spent countless hours on this case, all in an effort to ascertain the true facts of what occurred on December 20, 2011,” said police chief Sam Dotson upon the indictment.
Federal prosecutors had declined to prosecute Stockley after the shooting, prompting the St. Louis City Attorney’s office to consider the case.
3. Prosecutors Accused Stockley Of Planting a Gun In Smith’s Car To Justify Probable Cause
Forensic testing of the gun found in Smith’s car found only Stockley’s DNA on the weapon, which led the prosecution to believe that Stockley may have planted the gun in Smith’s car in order to bolster his story that he thought Smith was reaching for a weapon at the time that the officer opened fire on him.
The bag of heroin found in the car did have Smith’s DNA on it.
The prosecution put their theory forward during August 2017 opening arguments in the case, and it was the first time the theory had been made public. “[Smith] may have fled from police, but he did not deserve to be executed,” said Assistant Circuit Attorney Aaron Levinson.
Video footage submitted by the prosecution showed Stockley walking back and forth from his police cruiser to Smith’s vehicle several times after he shot and killed him. Stockley’s defense attorney claimed that Stockley had picked up the gun to discharge it, and had “rendered it safe” at the scene, explaining away the DNA found underneath a screw on the gun’s handle.
4. A 2013 Wrongful Death Suit Against Stockley Resulted in a $900,000 Payout
Though the criminal courts took five years to investigate the case, Smith’s family filed a wrongful death suit in civil court against the St. Louis Police Department on behalf of his daughter, Autumn B. Smith, who was 1-year-old at the time.
The police department settled with the family for an undisclosed amount, though the St. Louis Post-Dispatched reported the amount of the settlement as $900,000 in a 2016 that totaled wrongful death payouts the department had made in recent years—a whopping $4.7 million, according to the paper.
5. People Are Taking to The Streets in St. Louis to Protest The Not Guilty Verdict
Citizens of Missouri are taking to the streets and to the internet to express their dismay with the verdict, labeling it as yet another tragedy in the Black Lives Matter movement.
Just three years earlier, the state was gripped with racial tensions after the police shot and killed a young black man in Ferguson, Missouri, resulting in a series of violent riots that went on for months.