Again and again and again, it keeps happening. Another police officer has walked away without repercussions after gunning down a black man. On Friday morning, a St. Louis judge found now-former Police Officer Jason Stockley not guilty of first-degree murder in the 2011 shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith, a black motorist.
St. Louis had waited with bated breath, restless and on edge, as it awaited the judge’s ruling, as CNN notes.
The ruling, handed down by St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson, ultimately read: “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.”
Stockley, who was then on the police force, shot Smith, a 24-year-old father, after a police chase in December 2011.
Stockley, as to be expected, claimed that he had acted in self-defense, saying he believed that Smith was reaching for a weapon in the car. He pleaded not guilty to the charges and waived his right to a jury trial, instead preferring to stand before a judge.
Prosecutors accused him of planting the gun in Smith’s car in order to justify the shooting, pointing out that Stockley’s DNA was found on the gun, but not Smith’s.
“I’m disappointed with the court’s finding,” Circuit Judge Kim Gardner, whose office prosecuted the case, said in a release, according to Newsweek. “I know there are better ways we can do this if we join together to make the system work for us all.”
Smith’s family is expected to hold a press conference later Friday morning.
As Newsweek notes, protesters vowed that “there [would] be unrest” in the city if the verdict ended up being not guilty.
However, Smith’s fiancee, Christina Wilson, spoke at a press conference with the governor Thursday, urging protesters to remain peaceful.
“We might not get what we want,” Wilson said at the time. “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.”
Gov. Eric Greitens echoed Wilson’s comments.
“I want every Missourian to listen to Christina’s words,” he said. “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. One life has been lost in this case, and we don’t need more bloodshed. We need peace, we need love, we need understanding and we need compassion for one another.
“I ask every Missourian to please follow Christina’s courageous and compassionate example,” Greitens continued. “Whatever the verdict is, we will protect every single person’s right to peacefully protest. And whatever the verdict is, we’ll also protect people’s lives, their homes and our communities.”
Police, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports, have been preparing for the fallout, with barricades going up around the Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse Thursday, and the St. Louis and St. Louis County police are preparing to have officers on 12-hour shifts Friday.
On Dec. 20, 2011, Stockley attempted to stop Smith after a suspected drug transaction. When Smith did not stop, a high-speed chase began. The then-officer shot at Smith’s car during the chase, apparently screaming, “I’m going to kill this motherfucker, don’t you know it!”
Ultimately, during the chase, the police vehicle crashed. Stockley got out armed with a service pistol and an AK-47, which he had against the Police Department’s orders, and walked up to Smith’s car firing five times at point-blank range with his pistol.
No witness could testify that they saw Smith with a weapon, and yet mysteriously, a .38 revolver that did not have Smith’s DNA showed up.
And, yet, this is the justice that was served. And once again, St. Louis will be left confused, betrayed, shellshocked and more than likely enraged. Whether or not the protests will boil over remains to be seen.