Hundreds of demonstrators streamed into the streets of downtown St. Louis to protest the verdict after a white former police officer was acquitted Friday in the 2011 death of a black man who was fatally shot after a high-speed chase.
ST. LOUIS — A white former police officer was acquitted Friday in the 2011 death of a black man who was fatally shot after a high-speed chase, and hundreds of demonstrators streamed into the streets of downtown St. Louis to protest the verdict.
Before the acquittal, activists had threatened civil disobedience if Jason Stockley were not convicted. Barricades went up last month around police headquarters, the courthouse where the trial was held and other potential protest sites.
By late Friday, 13 arrests had been made and four officers hurt. None was hospitalized, St. Louis interim police Chief Lawrence O’Toole said.
The case played out not far from the suburb of Ferguson, Missouri, the scene of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, the unarmed black 18-year-old killed by a white police officer in 2014. That officer was never charged and eventually resigned.
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Stockley, who was charged with first-degree murder, insisted he saw Anthony Lamar Smith holding a gun and felt he was in imminent danger. Prosecutors said the officer planted a gun in Smith’s car after the shooting. The officer asked the case to be decided by a judge instead of a jury.
“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,” St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson wrote in the decision.
In a written statement, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner said prosecutors believe they “offered sufficient evidence that proved beyond a reasonable doubt” that Stockley intended to kill Smith.
Prosecutors objected to the officer’s request for a bench trial. The Constitution guarantees the right of criminal suspects to have their cases heard “by an impartial jury.” But defendants can also opt to have the verdict rendered by a judge.
If convicted Stockley, 36, could have been sentenced to up to life in prison without parole. He left the St. Louis police force in 2013 and moved to Houston.
Fears of unrest in St. Louis prompted several downtown businesses and some schools to close early.
Efforts at civil disobedience were largely unsuccessful. When several demonstrators tried to rush onto Interstate 64, they were blocked by police cars and officers on bikes. When they tried to enter the city’s convention center, the doors were locked.
At times, things escalated and police used pepper spray. By nightfall, hundreds of protesters moved to St. Louis’ upscale Central West End section, where they marched and chanted as people looked on from restaurants and hospital windows lining busy Kingshighway. The group tried marching onto I-64 again, but police blocked their path.
The Smith case began when Stockley and his partner tried to corner Smith in a fast-food restaurant parking lot after seeing what appeared to be a drug deal. Stockley testified that he saw what he believed was a gun, and his partner yelled “gun!” as Smith backed into the police SUV twice to get away.
Stockley’s attorney, Neil Bruntrager, argued that Smith, 24, tried to run over the two officers. Stockley fired seven shots as Smith sped away. A chase ensued.
At the end of the chase, Stockley opened fire when Smith, still in his car, refused commands to put up his hands and reached along the seat “in the area where the gun was,” Bruntrager said. Stockley said he climbed into Smith’s car and found a revolver between the center console and passenger seat.
Prosecutors questioned why Stockley dug into a bag in the back seat of the police SUV before returning to Smith’s car. The gun found in Smith’s car did not have his DNA on it, but it did have Stockley’s.