ST. LOUIS – A judge found a former police officer not guilty of first-degree murder on Friday in the controversial shooting death of a black man who was shot following a high-speed pursuit in 2011.

Former St. Louis Officer Jason Stockley

The former St. Louis police officer, Jason Stockley, 36, (pictured) shot Anthony Lamar Smith, then 24 years-of-age, five times. The officer said he saw Smith holding a gun and felt he was in imminent danger. However, prosecutors said Stockley planted the gun in Smith’s car after he shot him, reported Fox News.

Hence, Assistant Circuit Attorney Robert Steele emphasized during the trial that police dashcam video of the chase captured Stockley saying he was “going to kill this motherf*****, don’t you know it.” And then, less than a minute later, there was a fatal shooting. As a result, Stockley’s lawyer dismissed the comment as “human emotions” amid a dangerous police pursuit.

Consequently, Stockley was facing a potential life sentence without the possibility of parole if convicted. The former officer left St. Louis’ police force in 2013 and moved to Houston.

Verdict – Former Police Officer Not Guilty

Stockley requested that a judge rather than a jury, despite objections from prosecutors, hear the case. Therefore, Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson oversaw the bench trial. As a result, he ultimately ruled that Stockley was not guilty of the charge of murder in the first degree.

Tensions

Ahead of the verdict, activists in St. Louis threatened civil disobedience if Stockley were acquitted, including possible efforts to shut down highways. With tensions increasing and people becoming uneasy, the mayor and an attorney for Smith’s fiancé publicly urged for calm.

Gov. Eric Greitens met with and assured black faith leaders that peaceful protesters’ rights would be protected. But he later stressed that violence wouldn’t be tolerated.

Barricades went up on Aug. 28 around police headquarters, the courthouse where the trial was held, and other sites of recent or potential protests. Police said they were being proactive to ensure safety “due to recent events around the country.”

Area Is Intimately Familiar With Unrest

And this area is intimately familiar with recent protests and riots.

The St. Louis area has a history of unrest in such cases, including after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson in 2014. Many of the protests turned violent in one of the most thoroughly documented incident in recent years.

Case Overview

In Smith’s case, the encounter began when Stockley and his partner tried to corner Smith in a fast-food restaurant parking lot. The officers believed they witnessed a narcotic transaction. Furthermore, Stockley testified that he saw what he believed was a gun, and his partner yelled “gun!” as Smith backed into the police SUV twice to get away.

Stockley’s attorney, Neil Bruntrager, argued that Smith, a parole violator with previous convictions for gun and drug crimes, tried to run over the two officers. Stockley fired seven shots as Smith sped away. As a result, a pursuit ensued.

When the chase terminated, Stockley opened fire when Smith, still in his car, refused commands to reveal his hands. In defiance, he reached along the seat “in the area where the gun was,” Bruntrager said.

Stockley said he climbed into Smith’s car and found a revolver stuffed between the center console and passenger seat.

But prosecutors questioned Stockley’s actions prior to finding the firearm. They said he dug into a bag in the back seat of the police SUV before returning to the suspect vehicle.

The gun found in Smith’s car didn’t have his DNA on it, but it did have Stockley’s.

“The gun was a plant,” Steele said. The weapon in question was a .38 Taurus revolver as illustrated in the feature photo.

Acquittal Does Not Sit Well With ESOP

The acquittal does not sit well with the Ethical Society of Police (ESOP). They released 21 reasons why they believe Stockley should have been convicted.

Recent Verdicts

The Stockley case was among several in recent years in which officers were involved in fatal shootings with black suspects.

Officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted of murdering Philando Castile in Minnesota. However, the city of St. Anthony said that the public “will be best served” if Yanez no longer works for the city as they fired him.

Officer Betty Shelby was acquitted in the shooting death of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She was reinstated to her position after trial. However, she resigned in July, saying that she couldn’t bear to be put on administrative duty, reported NBC News.

“Since being reinstated, I have found that sitting behind a desk, isolated from all my fellow officers and the citizens of Tulsa, is just not for me,” Betty Shelby said in a statement released by her union, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 93.

And there were two mistrials involving Officer Ray Tensing in the shooting death of Sam DuBose in Ohio. Prosecutors have decided not to seek a third trial in that case. Tensing’s employment had been terminated shortly after the shooting, but he is fighting to return to work.

(Photo via James Case/Harris County Sheriff’s Office)