A judge may be close to a ruling in the case of a white former St. Louis police officer charged with first-degree murder in the 2011 death of a black man who was a drug suspect, and Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens said he has put the National Guard on standby in case unrest breaks out.
Testimony in Jason Stockley’s trial in the death of Anthony Lamar Smith ended Aug. 9. Media reports and preparation announcements from officials indicate that Judge Timothy Wilson may rule Friday.
Activists have threatened civil disobedience if Stockley is acquitted. St. Louis police said officers will begin working 12-hour shifts starting Friday in anticipation of a ruling. Mayor Lyda Krewson said in a video statement that the Missouri State Highway Patrol and St. Louis County police will provide support, with the patrol handling any protests on state highways.
All three downtown courthouses, including the federal courthouse, will be closed Friday.
Greitens and Krewson urged protesters to be peaceful, a sentiment echoed by Smith’s fiancée, Christina Wilson.
Here’s a look at the case:
Stockley and his partner saw what appeared to be a drug transaction in the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant on Dec. 20, 2011. As the officers sought to corner Smith, he drove away. Stockley’s defense attorney, Neil Bruntrager, said the officers were nearly run over. Stockley fired at the fleeing car, then a car chase began.
Police dashcam video captured Stockley saying, “going to kill this (expletive), don’t you know it,” in the midst of the chase. As Smith’s car slowed, Stockley told his partner to slam the police SUV into it, and his partner did so. Stockley then got out of the SUV and fired five shots into Smith’s car, killing him.
Bruntrager said Stockley fired only after Smith refused commands to put up his hands and reached along the seat toward an area where a gun was found. But prosecutors said Stockley planted the gun. Testing found Stockley’s DNA on the gun, but not Smith’s.
Stockley and Smith
Stockley, now 36, graduated from a Catholic high school in nearby Belleville, Illinois, then went to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. After graduation, he served in Iraq, where he was injured and awarded the Army Bronze Star. Stockley joined the St. Louis Police Department in 2007. He resigned in 2013, about two years after the shooting, and moved to Houston.
Smith, 24, was the father of a 1-year-old daughter when he died. His family has not disclosed much about him. Court records show he had a criminal record that included convictions for unlawful possession of a firearm and drug distribution. At the time of the shooting, he was on probation for a stealing charge related to a crime in Ferguson in 2010. In 2013, the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners reached a $900,000 settlement with Smith’s family, ending a wrongful-death lawsuit filed on behalf of Smith’s daughter.
The circuit attorney’s office initially decided not to charge Stockley, but police internal affairs brought new evidence in March 2016. Then-Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce announced in May 2016 that Stockley was charged with first-degree murder.
The new evidence wasn’t disclosed, but the St. Louis Post-Dispatch obtained the dashboard camera video and published it soon after charges were announced. The footage showing Stockley’s threat led to increased anger from activists.
Prosecutors opted not to pursue the death penalty. Stockley chose to have the case decided by a judge, rather than a jury. The judge agreed over the objections of prosecutors.
Police and courts in the St. Louis area have been under scrutiny since the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. Brown, who was black and unarmed, was fatally shot by white officer Darren Wilson after a street skirmish. Weeks of often-violent protests followed, and violence was renewed that November after a St. Louis County grand jury declined to indict Wilson. He resigned that month.
Since then, several black suspects have been fatally shot by police in St. Louis. Stockley is the only St. Louis police officer charged with murder in recent years.