Former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley was found not guilty in the 2011 shooting death of 24-year-old Anthony Lamar Smith on September 15. Stockley, who is white, claimed he acted in self-defense because he thought Smith, who is black, was reaching for a gun. Since Stockley waived his right to a jury trial, the decision to acquit Stockley was made by St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson.
“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 in his ruling on September 15.
Stockley was a St. Louis Police Department officer until August 2013. He resigned a month after then-Police Chief Sam Dotson suspended him for 30 days for his violation of police policies in the Smith case. He then moved to Houston, where he worked for TH Hill Associates until January 2016. Stockley faced a first-degree murder charge in Smith’s death.
Here’s what you need to know about Smith, his death and why Wilson did not convict Stockley.
1. Stockley Claimed Self-Defense in the Shooting of Smith, Who Was Killed on December 20, 2011, After a High-Speed Chase
Smith was killed on December 20, 2011 in St. Louis.
The events started when Stockley and his partner, Brian Bianchi, tried to arrest Smith during a suspected drug bust outside the Church’s Chicken restaurant near Thekla Avenue and Riverview Boulevard. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the whole event took about six minutes.
Dashboard camera footage showed the officers pulling up behind Smith’s rented silver Buick. In the video, Smith appears to see the officers get out and tries to back out. He hits the police SUV and drives past Stockley. The officer then nearly drops his personal AK-47, which he was carrying even though he was not authorized to do so. Stockley can be seen trying to shoot Smith’s car with his department-issued handgun. Bianchi then picks up Stockley in the patrol vehicle and they begin chasing Smith, with speeds reaching up to 87 mph. At one point, the video appears to show the SUV hitting a tree before continuing the chase. The chase ended when the SUV hit Smith’s car.
After the crash, Stockley approached Smith’s car with his handgun drawn. He fired five times into Smith’s car. After another officer arrives, Stockley went back into his SUV and appeared to be searching through a duffel bag. It’s not clear what – if anything – Stockley pulled out of the bag.
In September 2016, the Post-Dispatch obtained the dashboard camera footage, as well as a recording from the OnStar assistance system operator who tried to speak with Smith after the crash. The documents were sent to the Post-Dispatch anonymously from someone not working on the legal proceedings.
2. Court Documents Claim Stockley Said He’s ‘Going to Kill This M*therf*cker, Don’t You Know It’ During the Chase
The video and documents obtained by the St. Louis media in 2016 appeared to show that Stockley made comments about Smith during the chase. The documents claimed Stockley said he was, “Going to kill this m*therf*cker, don’t you know it.”
CNN reports that Stockley said he went back to his SUV after shooting at Smith to get a first aid kit. But by the time he got back to Smith’s car, it was too late. Stockley claimed he saw a silver revolver in Smith’s car and he went into the vehicle “to locate the weapon and render it safe,” according to the internal report. He also removed the ammunition from the weapon.
However, the criminal complaint against Stockley said that the only DNA found on the gun he claimed belonged to Smith was Stockley’s own DNA.
The Post-Dispatch reports that police also said there was a bag of heroin found in Smith’s car that had Smith’s DNA on it.
Assistant Circuit Attorney Aaron Levinson said in his opening statement of the trial in April that Stockley’s DNA was found under a screw in the revolver’s handle. Since Stockley wasn’t injured during the shooting, Levinson suggested that the DNA could have been put on the weapon before the events.
But Stockley’s attorney, Neil Bruntrager, dismissed the importance of his client’s DNA on the gun. Buntrager said Stockley needed to make sure the weapon was safe and that Stockley told his superior about seeing a silver revolver before he went into Smith’s car.
3. Smith Was Out on Parole for Theft Charge At the Time of the Shooting
At the time of the shooting, Smith was out on parole for a theft charge related to a 2010 crime. Court records show that Smith’s record included convictions on drug distribution and unlawful possession of a firearm, according to the Associated Press.
Wilson wrote that the state could not prove that Stockley planted the weapon.
“The gun was a full size revolver and not a small gun, such as a derringer, that can fit in the palm of one’s hand or into the side pocket of pants without being obvious,” Wilson wrote. “Stockley was not wearing a jacket; if he had such a gun in his possession it would have been visible on the cell phone video.”
Wilson continued, “The gun was too large to fit entirely within any of the pockets on the pants he was wearing, there was no bulge in any pocket indicating a gun within the pocket, and the gun would not have been visible if it was tucked into his belt.”
4. Smith Had a 1-Year-Old Daughter at the Time of His Death
At the time of his death, Smith’s daughter Autumn Smith was only a year old.
In February 2012, the St. Louis Dispatch reported that a wrongful death and civil rights federal lawsuit was filed on Autumn’s behalf. The lawsuit claimed that Smith was injured by the crash after the high-speed chase and could not have posed a threat when Stockley shot him.
Smith’s attorney, Al Watkins, said Smith was battling for his life when he was shot. He cited what Christina Wilson, Autumn’s mother and Smith’s fiancee, heard on the phone during the shooting.
CBS News reports that the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners paid a $900,000 settlement to Autumn Smith.
Antwan Johnson, Smith’s brother, told Fox2Now that be thought the judge made his decision before the trial even started.
“We’re not done with this case. Stockley committed a murder and he has to be held accountable for his actions,” Johnson said. Johnson claimed Stockley arrested him eight days before Smith’s death.
“We’re coming together to shut it down,” Johnson said. “We all need to come together as people. The justice system doesn’t care about us. These laws are not made for us.”
5. Smith’s Fiancee, Christina Wilson, Urged St. Louis Residents to Keep Protests Peaceful
St. Louis officials prepared for potential unrest after the verdict, but Smith’s fiancee, Christina Wilson, urged peace.
“We might not get what we want,” Christina Wilson said at a Thursday press conference with Missouri Governor Eric Greitens by her side, reports Newsweek. “But however it goes, I ask for peace on behalf of my daughter, on Anthony’s loved ones, and if you feel like you want to speak out, speak how you feel. Just do it in a peaceful way.”
“I want every Missourian to listen to Christina’s words. We know that people will feel pain and hurt. But please, for Christina’s sake, and for her daughter’s sake, do not turn that pain into violence,” Greitens added.
Earlier this month, Watkins, who is also Christina Wilson’s attorney, issued a statement asking for peace.
“To the extent Mr. Smith can leave a legacy for his child to embrace, it is hoped our city can use this pre-Ferguson tragic loss of life to serve as a catalyst for post-Ferguson healing,” Watkins said.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that officials prepared for unrest by posting barricades outside the two downtown court houses.
Smith’s death happened less than three years before the shooting death of Michael Brown, which sparked unrest in Ferguson.
Since the verdict, there has been unrest in St. Louis. On September 18, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that 80 people were arrested the night before after a peaceful protest became violent.
“For the third day in a row, the days have been calm and the nights have been destructive,” St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson said. “This is unacceptable. Destruction cannot be tolerated.”