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Protests follow ex-St. Louis officer’s acquittal in killing

Updated: 
September 16, 2017 - 12:05am

ST. LOUIS — A white former police officer was acquitted Friday in the 2011 death of a black man who was fatally shot following a high-speed chase, and hundreds of demonstrators streamed into the streets of downtown St. Louis and later an upscale neighborhood to protest the verdict that had stirred fears of civil unrest for weeks.

Ahead of the acquittal, activists had threatened civil disobedience if Jason Stockley were not convicted, including possible efforts to shut down highways. Barricades went up last month around police headquarters, the courthouse where the trial was held and other potential protest sites. Protesters were marching within hours of the decision.

More than a dozen arrests were made, and several officers were hurt as the day went on.

The case played out not far from the suburb of Ferguson, Missouri, which was the scene of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, the unarmed black 18-year-old who was killed by a white police officer in 2014. That officer was never charged and eventually resigned.

Stockley, who was charged with first-degree murder, insisted he saw 24-year-old Anthony Lamar Smith holding a gun and felt he was in imminent danger. Prosecutors said the officer planted a gun in Smith’s car after the shooting.

In an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch , Stockley said he understands how the video of him fatally shooting Smith looks bad to investigators and the public, but he said the optics have to be separated from the facts and he did nothing wrong.

“I can feel for and I understand what the family is going through, and I know everyone wants someone to blame, but I’m just not the guy,” he said.

Stockley, 36, asked the case to be decided by a judge instead of a jury. Prosecutors objected to his request for a bench trial.

“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,” St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson wrote in the decision .

In a written statement, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner acknowledged the difficulty of winning police shooting cases but said prosecutors believe they “offered sufficient evidence that proved beyond a reasonable doubt” that Stockley intended to kill Smith.

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 (expletive), don’t you know it.”

Less than a minute later, the officer shot Smith five times. Stockley’s lawyer dismissed the comment as “human emotions” uttered during a dangerous police pursuit. The judge wrote that the statement “can be ambiguous depending on the context.”

Stockley, who left St. Louis’ police force in 2013 and moved to Houston, could have been sentenced to up to life in prison without parole.

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