ST. LOUIS (AP) — Hundreds of people protesting the acquittal of a white former St. Louis police officer in the fatal shooting of black man marched for hours in mostly peaceful demonstrations, until a broken window at the mayor's home and escalating tensions led riot police to lob tear gas to disperse the crowds.
Protesters gather, Friday, Sept. 15, 2017, in St. Louis, after a judge found a white former St. Louis police officer, Jason Stockley, not guilty of first-degree murder in the death of a black man, Anthony Lamar Smith, who was fatally shot following a high-speed chase in 2011. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
For weeks, activists had been threatening civil disobedience if Jason Stockley were not convicted of murder for killing Anthony Lamar Smith, prompting authorities to take precautions. With the large protests that followed the 2014 killing of Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson still fresh in everyone's minds, barricades were erected around police headquarters and the courthouse, among other sites, in anticipation of the verdict.
Within hours of St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson acquitting Stockley of first-degree murder, a racially diverse crowd of protesters took to the streets — some legally carrying weapons and others toting children and waving posters.
More than 20 arrests were made by early evening, and some protesters were pepper-sprayed during confrontations with authorities. St. Louis police reported that 10 officers had suffered injuries by the end of the night, including a broken jaw and dislocated shoulder, and some journalists reported being threatened by protesters.
Activists said they would meet again Saturday to plan further demonstrations. The band U2 canceled its Saturday night concert in St. Louis because the police department said it wouldn't be able to provide its standard protection for the event, organizers said.
The 2011 confrontation began when Stockley and his partner tried to arrest Smith for a suspected drug deal in a fast-food restaurant. Smith sped off, leading to a chase that ended when he crashed.
At the trial, Stockley testified that he saw the 24-year-old Smith holding a silver revolver as he sped away at the start of the chase. He said when he shot Smith, he felt he was in imminent danger.
Prosecutors said Stockley planted a gun in Smith's car after the shooting — Stockley's DNA was on the weapon but Smith's wasn't.
Dashcam video from Stockley's police car captured him saying he was "going to kill this (expletive), don't you know it." Less than a minute later, he shot Smith five times.
Stockley's lawyer dismissed the comment as "human emotions" uttered during a dangerous pursuit.
In his decision, Wilson wrote that the statement "can be ambiguous depending on the context."
"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," the judge wrote.
In an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch after the verdict, Stockley, 36, said he understands how video of the shooting looks bad, but that he did nothing wrong.
"I can feel for and I understand what the family is going through, and I know everyone wants someone to blame, but I'm just not the guy," said Stockley, who left St. Louis' police force in 2013 and moved to Houston.
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner acknowledged the difficulty of winning police shooting cases but said prosecutors believe they proved that Stockley intended to kill Smith.
Friday's protests began with largely unsuccessful efforts at civil disobedience. Demonstrators were blocked on an entrance ramp before they could rush onto an interstate, and found the city's convention center's doors locked when they tried to enter.
Protesters march down, Friday, Sept. 15, 2017, in downtown St. Louis, after a judge found a white former St. Louis police officer, Jason Stockley, not guilty of first-degree murder in the death of a black man, Anthony Lamar Smith, who was fatally shot following a high-speed chase in 2011. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Early confrontations erupted when protesters blocked a bus full of officers in riot gear and later surrounded a police vehicle that was damaged with rocks, prompting police to deploy pepper spray. A freelance Associated Press videographer said a protester threw his camera to the ground and damaged it, and he was later threatened with a beating if he didn't put another camera away. A KTVI reporter said water bottles were thrown at him after a protester taunted him, drawing a crowd.
As night fell, hundreds of demonstrators walked through the streets to the upscale Central West End section of the city, where they chanted and marched as people looked on from restaurants and hospital windows lining busy Kingshighway.
Tensions escalated after protesters broke a front window and splattered red paint on the home of St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, who had called for calm ahead of the verdict and later said she was appalled by what happened to Smith and "sobered" by the outcome.
Police in bulletproof vests and helmets closed in and demanded protesters get off the lawn and the street in front of the house, eventually using tear gas to clear the area over the next two hours.
Smith's death is just one of several high-profile U.S. cases in recent years in which a white officer killed a black suspect, including the killing of Brown in Ferguson. The officer who killed the unarmed 18-year-old wasn't charged and eventually resigned.
Associated Press writer Summer Ballentine contributed to this report.
Questions of gun planting, outburst key in officer's verdict
By ROXANA HEGEMAN , Associated Press
In this undated photo released by 22nd Judicial Circuit Court of Missouri, St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson is seen. Wilson acquitted Jason Stockley, a white former St. Louis police officer Friday, Sept. 15, 2017, in the death of Anthony Lamar Smith, a black man who was fatally shot following a high-speed chase in 2011. (22nd Judicial Circuit Court of Missouri via AP)
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A judge's decision to acquit an officer of murder in the death of a black suspect came down to two major questions: Did the officer plant a gun, and did his outburst about killing the man seconds before the shooting signal premeditation?
St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson determined Friday that prosecutors failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Jason Stockley's use of deadly force was not justifiable self-defense. Anthony Lamar Smith was killed in the 2011 encounter.
"Ultimately when people argue about this case, they are going to be arguing whether the judge drew the right conclusion from the evidence and probably less about the law," said Ben Trachtenbert, an associate professor of law at the University of Missouri.
Here's a look at how the judge parsed those arguments in his ruling:
DID THE OFFICER PLANT THE GUN?
The officers were investigating what appeared to be a drug transaction in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant. The car sped away and a high-speed chase ensued. Police slammed their SUV into Smith's car. Stockley then got out and fired five shots into Smith's car, killing him. A handgun was found in the car after the shooting.
Prosecutors argued the presence of Stockley's DNA — and absence of Smith's DNA — on the gun proved the gun must have been planted by the officer.
But the defense countered that Stockley heard his partner yell "gun" and saw the driver's hand on a gun as the car sped by him. Stockley testified he did not draw his service revolver and fire until he saw Smith reaching around inside the vehicle after it was stopped. He said Smith changed his demeanor, suggesting he found the gun.
Stockley testified that after the shooting he found the gun tucked down between the seat and the center console, and he rendered the gun safe by unloading cartridges from the cylinder and then left the gun and cartridges on the passenger seat.
In his ruling, Wilson wrote that "a fact issue that is central" to the case is whether Smith had the gun when he was shot. He found the state's contention that the officer planted the gun is not supported by evidence.
A full-sized revolver was too large for the officer to hide in his pants pockets and he was not wearing a jacket, the judge said. If the gun had been tucked into his belt, it would have been visible on a bystander's video that showed Stockley walking between the police car and Smith's car, he found.
Wilson also noted none of the officers standing next to the vehicle were called to testify that Stockley planted a gun. And he recounted witness testimony that the absence of a person's DNA on a gun does not mean that person did not touch the gun.
"Finally, the Court observes, based on its nearly thirty years on the bench, that an urban heroin dealer not in possession of a firearm would be an anomaly," the judge wrote.
DID THE OFFICER'S OUTBURST INDICATE PREMEDITATION?
Smith drove at speeds of up to 87 miles per hour on wet roads, endangering other drivers and pedestrians. About 45 seconds before the chase ended, police dashcam video captured Stockley saying, "going to kill this (expletive), don't you know it."
Prosecutors argued that statement proved the officer deliberated about killing Smith even before the pursuit ended.
When questioned about his statement at trial, Stockley said he could not remember saying those words. The ruling noted Stockley testified he had not made a decision to kill Smith and could not recall the context in which the statement was made.
The judge said in his decision that it was apparent from the dashcam audio and video that the pursuit was stressful, both because of its high speed and the confusion caused by multiple radios and communications with the dispatcher.
"People say all kinds of things in the heat of the moment or while in stressful situations, and whether Stockley's statement ... constituted a real threat of action or was a means of releasing tension has to be judged by his subsequent conduct," the judge wrote.
The court does not believe the officer's conduct following the end of the pursuit is consistent with the conduct of a person intentionally killing another person unlawfully, Wilson wrote. He noted testimony by the state's witnesses that Stockley ordered Smith to open the door and show his hands.
It was not until 15 seconds after Stockley arrived the driver's side door that he took his service revolver out of its holster and fired several shots.
- Written by By JIM SALTER , Associated Press