Following weeks of anticipation, the erection of downtown barricades, early school closures and the activation of the National Guard, a St. Louis judge announced today (September 15) that a White, ex-officer with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) will not face punishiment for killing a Black motorist in 2011.
“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,” Wilson wrote in the ruling, which was published by The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Wilson’s decision comes after weeks of speculation about Stockley’s fate and the city’s reluctance to specify a verdict release date. The New York Times reports that the city erected barricades around the courthouse where Stockley’s trial took place, and that Missouri governor Eric Greitens placed Missouri National Guard soldiers on standby. St. Louis Public Radio adds that MPD officers will start 12-hour shifts this morning, and that several area school districts are considering early dismissal today.
Officials are looking to preempt possible unrest similar to what rocked nearby Ferguson, where local law enforcement used military-grade arms and suppression tactics to counter Black community protests following the 2014 police killing of Michael Brown.
The Post-Dispatch previously reported that, during an August 28 demonstration that included members of Smith’s family, local activist Tory Russell pledged ”300-plus days of direct action” for a not guilty verdict. The Times/The Associated Press reports that at least a dozen protesters have gathered near the courthouse as of press time.
Surveillance footage, dashcam video and court documents obtained by the Post-Dispatch in September 2016 indicate that Stockley approached Smith while holding a non-department-issued AK-47 assault rifle. Smith backed his vehicle into the squad car Stockley and his partner Brian Bianchi drove up in, then drove away.
Court documents say that Stockley said, “Going to kill this (expletive), don’t you know it,” during the ensuing pursuit. The officers later rammed Smith’s car, which triggered Smith’s side airbags and blocked his body from view. After both officers approached armed and looked under the airbags, Stockley fired five shots into the car using his handgun. Both officers maintained that Stockley shot Smith in self-defense because he believed he had a gun.
After another officer arrived, Stockley was seen on video reaching into a duffel bag in his squad car. The camera doesn’t reveal what he removed from the bag, but later footage shows him near the driver seat of Smith’s car after the victim’s body was removed. Court documents revealed that a revolver found in Smith’s car tested positive for Stockley’s DNA. Stockley said he touched the gun to remove the bullets for safety reasons, but critics have accused him of planting the weapon.