In August, the Missouri NAACP issued its first statewide travel advisory to people of color, warning of state-backed racial discrimination. A judge’s ruling that lets a White former St. Louis cop off the hook for killing a Black suspect adds credence to that warning.
St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson, in a bench trial, found former officer Jason Stockley not guilty on Friday of first-degree murder in the shooting death Anthony Lamar Smith after a high-speed car chase in 2011, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
The chase began when Stockley, 36, and his partner attempted to arrest Smith, 24, for a suspected drug deal. During the hot pursuit, an in-car camera video caught Stockley telling his partner he’s “Gonna kill ” the suspect, which the prosecutor said was evidence of premeditation.
According to the prosecutor, Stockley shot Smith five times at close range and planted a gun in the suspect vehicle after the police pulled Smith’s body from the car. Lab tests of the revolver, however, found only Stockley’s DNA on the weapon.
Wilson was unmoved. He dismissed the ex-cop’s words as something said in the heat of the moments, as well as the DNA and video evidence that suggested he planted the weapon.
“The court observes, based on its nearly 30 years on the bench, that an urban heroin dealer not in possession of a firearm would be an anomaly,” the judge wrote in his ruling, which acquitted Stockley of the murder and armed criminal action charges.
Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner said in a statement that the prosecution presented enough evidence, but it’s hard to win officer-involved shooting cases.
“However, in this case it was the judge’s duty to evaluate the evidence and deliver his findings. That’s how our system works,” she added, according to The Post-Dispatch.
The attorney for Smith’s family, Albert Watkins, was less understanding:
“I find the ultimate disposition, the ruling, to be appalling, appallingly contrary to all of the evidence that was present, the evidence introduced into the record as an official entry into this case,” he said outside the courthouse after the verdict, the newspaper said.
According to the state NAACP, Missouri has a history of racial and civil rights discrimination. Consequently, it issued the travel advisory after state lawmakers passed legislation that shifts the burden of proof to plaintiffs in civil rights and discrimination lawsuits.
Moreover, law enforcement on Missouri’s roadways are notoriously bias according to the state’s own data, the Kansas City Star reported.
In 2016, Black drivers in Missouri were 75 percent more likely to be stopped by police than White drivers were. The police were also more likely to search the vehicles of Black drivers but less likely to find contraband during those searches, according to the date reported by The Star.
Knowing the state’s history, a group of clergy warned Wilson of unrest if he acquitted Stockley, ABC News reported. The Rev. Clinton Stancil said at a news conference weeks before the verdict that the group doesn’t condone violence but anticipates an angry response from residents.
Indeed, racial tension remains high after a grand jury declined to indict the White former officer who fatally shot an unarmed Black teen, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri.
The Post-Dispatch reported that Gov. Eric Greitens activated the National Guard before the verdict, and police officers are working 12-hour shifts, as the city placed barricades around downtown courthouses and the police station.