Former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley was found not guilty Friday of murdering a man while on duty, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson’s highly anticipated verdict found the white ex-cop not guilty of first-degree murder and armed criminal action in the December 2011 shooting death of a black drug suspect after a high-speed pursuit and crash. Activists, with support from some of the city’s black clergy, had pledged disruptive protests ahead of Wilson’s verdict, and St. Louis was braced Friday for the potential of violence, including placement of National Guard troops in the city. In his verdict order, Wilson wrote, “A judge shall not be swayed by partisan interests, public clamor or fear of criticism.”
More than a month had passed since Stockley’s bench trial ended. The case has rekindled racial tensions not seen in St. Louis since the Ferguson uprising and police killing of VonDerrit Myers Jr. in the second half of 2014. Stockley, 36, who now lives in Houston, was charged in the shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith, 24, following a police chase that began when Stockley and his partner tried to arrest Smith for a suspected drug deal at a fast food store. At the beginning of the chase, dash cam and surveillance footage from a restaurant shows Smith backing into Stockley and his partner’s patrol car before speeding off. In his 30-page ruling, Judge Wilson wrote, “Mr. Smith’s Buick did not ‘gently strike’ the police vehicle…The police pursuit was in response to Smith’s perilous conduct…This pursuit was a stressful event for the occupants.” Prosecutors alleged Stockley planted a .38-caliber revolver in Smith’s crashed Buick after shooting him five times at close range. The defense has said Stockley shot Smith in self-defense because Stockley believed Smith was reaching for a gun. In 2013, city paid Smith’s survivors a $900,000 settlement stemming from a civil suit.