The judge deciding the fate of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley may issue his decision Friday, with many expecting unrest or violence in the city.
Former patrolman Jason Stockley, a graduate of Althoff Catholic High School in Belleville, fatally shot Anthony Lamar Smith on Dec. 20, 2011, while on duty. Stockley was charged with murder and tried in a bench trial that ended Aug. 9. The judge’s verdict is expected to be rendered Friday, according to a report from KMOV based on unnamed sources. Radio station KMOX, citing “multiple” unnamed sources, also reported the verdict was expected Friday.
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens has met with black faith leaders in the hope of staving off unrest, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He has also taken steps to activate the Missouri National Guard in case of violence. Barricades have gone up around the courthouse, and St. Louis police have begun operating in 12-hour shifts to be prepared, according to the Post-Dispatch.
On Saturday, more than 100 protesters gathered in Kiener Plaza for a “Justice for Us” rally calling for Stockley’s conviction.
The Ethical Society of Police, which primarily represents black police officers in St. Louis, called for conviction, and for peaceful protest. But activists have warned of “mass disruption” if Stockley is acquitted. On Wednesday night, a man in a white SUV drove through a group of protesters in Kirkwood in full view of police after stopping and talking to the protesters for at least 5 minutes, according to the Riverfront Times. It was not immediately known if anyone was arrested.
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson said she does not know what the judge’s verdict will be, but she acknowledged the city is on edge about its potential impact. She said the police department is establishing an area in Poelker Park at Tucker and Market streets for “people who want to exercise their right to free speech.”
“Protest is a cornerstone of our democracy,” Krewson said. “That said ... law enforcement will do their job and follow proper protocols to stop unlawful behavior and de-escalate situations as needed.”
Krewson said anyone intent on violence or vandalism will be arrested.
“As I’ve stated before, we may not understand our neighbor, our friends’ or even our family members’ reactions, but it is up to each of us to try,” she said. “To be clear, that is not condoning physical harm to others, destruction or violence. It should not be difficult to both understand and support the right to free speech, and be clear that those who commit violent or destructive acts will face consequences.”
Smith’s fiancée also called for peaceful protest, according to KMOV. “Anyone who truly loves Anthony should do things peacefully,” said Christina Wilson, who was engaged to Smith and had a daughter with him. “I ask for peace on behalf of my daughter and loved ones.”
At trial, prosecutors argued that Stockley planted a handgun in Smith’s car after shooting him five times. The defense argued that Stockley shot Smith in self-defense.
The police originally told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that two officers observed what they believed to be a drug transaction, and when they approached the car, they saw Smith reaching for something under the seat. Smith then allegedly put the car in gear and drove toward them, and they fired.
However, it was after Smith’s car crashed that Stockley shot him several times, according to multiple news reports. During the trial, prosecutors said Stockley fired from less than 6 inches away and was carrying a personally-owned AK-47, which is against department policy. A recording in the car quoted Stockley as saying “gonna kill this (expletive)” shortly before he opened fire, according to multiple news reports.
A dashboard camera showed Stockley rifling through a bag in the back of his squad car, but what he retrieved could not be seen. The defense argued it was first aid supplies, but an officer testified that no one attempted to render aid to Smith at the scene, according to KMOV. Prosecutors alleged it was a “drop gun,” an untraceable handgun meant to imply self-defense.
Stockley is a Fairmont City native graduating from Althoff in 1998, according to reports in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He later graduated from West Point and served in the U.S. Army in Iraq, earning a Bronze Star in combat. He joined the St. Louis Police Department in 2007.
Stockley continued to work on active duty for five more years until his retirement in 2013. However, Smith’s family won a $900,000 wrongful-death suit against Stockley in 2016, and evidence released from that suit led to criminal charges of first-degree murder after an internal affairs officer turned information over to the FBI, according to the Riverfront Times. Stockley was arrested in Texas.
The trial took place last month before St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson. Stockley waived his right to a jury, and the decision will be made solely by the judge.