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Protests In St. Louis After Ex-Cop Acquitted In Anthony Lamar Smith Murder Case

Originally published on September 16, 2017 2:37 am

Updated at 2 a.m. Saturday

Several hundred people gathered in St. Louis Friday to peacefully protest the acquittal of a police officer who was charged with the murder of a black motorist.

But after the main protest, police say "agitators" threw items including a brick at police. St. Louis police said nine police officers and one Missouri State Highway Patrol trooper were injured. At least two officers who were injured by a brick were transported to a hospital. Police Chief Lawrence O'Toole said 23 people were arrested by 6 p.m.

A reporter with KSDK tweeted what he said was footage of the brick hitting police:

Protesters "converged" near the house of St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, police said, "throwing rocks and breaking windows."

Windows were also broken at a public library and at a restaurant, St. Louis Public Radio's Erica Hunzinger reports for NPR. More than 50 police were on hand in riot gear, and police deployed tear gas and used rubber bullets after they say "agitators" refused to disperse.

Six years ago former St. Louis Police officer Jason Stockley shot and killed Anthony Lamar Smith after a car chase in North St. Louis. Earlier this year prosecutors charged Stockley, who is white, with first-degree murder, alleging he planted a gun in Smith's car.

On Friday, Stockley was acquitted of the crime.

"Not firmly convinced"

It was December 2011, and Stockley and his partner suspected Smith was dealing drugs outside of a fast-food restaurant in north St. Louis.

Smith drove away and Stockley and his partner gave chase. During the pursuit a dashcam recorded Stockley telling his partner he'd kill Smith. He then told the other officer to ram Smith's vehicle.

Stockley got out of the vehicle, went to Smith's and fired five shots, which turned out to be fatal.

Initially the officer wasn't charged with the crime. Stockley, who's no longer on the force, had a bench trial before Circuit Court Judge Timothy Wilson that ended last month. The city's been on edge ever since that time.

In Friday's verdict Judge Wilson wrote, "This Court, as the trier of fact, is simply not firmly convinced of defendant's guilt."

Wilson's verdict also says the state did not prove that Stockley acted beyond a reasonable doubt of self-defense, and that the judge saw no proof of Stockley planting a gun in the car.

Prosecuting Attorney Kimberly Gardiner says her office presented a case that showed Stockley WAS guilty.

"We cannot let the naysayers and the guardians of the status quo let us miss this opportunity to seek real change," she says.

Smith family attorney Al Watkins says he's appalled by the judge's decision. He finds Stockley's story of the shooting difficult to believe.

"I'm sorry. I don't buy it," he says. "I don't buy it for a heartbeat."

Protests and reactions

Immediately following the verdict protesters took to the streets in downtown St. Louis.

"To say that it's heartbreaking would be too much of an understatement," says TK Benson, one of the protesters. "But this generation of black people need to wake up and realize that the system has proven time after time after time that it is against us when it comes to stuff like this."

Like the protests that erupted in Ferguson following Michael Brown's shooting death at the hands of then-officer Darren Wilson, activists vow to protest throughout this weekend and into the coming weeks if necessary.

St. Louis Public Radio's Erica Hunzinger and NPR's James Doubek contributed to this report.

Copyright 2017 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

People are again protesting in the streets of St. Louis. They're angry over the death of a black driver at the hands of a white police officer.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) Whose streets?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Our streets.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) Whose streets?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Our streets.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) Whose streets?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Our streets.

CHANG: Whose street; our streets, they chanted. The shooting happened six years ago, and just this year, prosecutors charged the officer with first-degree murder. And today he was found not guilty. St. Louis Public Radio's Willis Ryder Arnold reports.

WILLIS RYDER ARNOLD, BYLINE: It was in December of 2011 that St. Louis Officer Jason Stockley and his partner suspected Anthony Lamar Smith was dealing drugs outside of a fast food restaurant in North St. Louis. Smith drove away, and Stockley and his partner gave chase. During the pursuit, a dash cam recorded Stockley telling his partner he'd kill Smith. He then told the other officer to ram Smith's vehicle. Stockley got out of the vehicle, went to Smith's window and fired five shots, which turned out to be fatal. Initially the officer wasn't charged with a crime. Stockley, who's no longer on the force, had a bench trial before Circuit Court Judge Timothy Wilson that ended last month. The city's been on edge ever since that time.

In today's verdict, Judge Wilson wrote, quote, "this court, as a trier of fact, is simply not firmly convinced of the defendant's guilt." Wilson's verdict also says the state did not prove that Stockley acted beyond a reasonable doubt of self-defense and that Judge Wilson saw no proof of Stockley planting a gun in the car. Prosecuting attorney Kimberly Gardner says her office presented a case that showed Stockley was guilty.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KIMBERLY GARDNER: We cannot let the naysayers and guardians the status quo let us miss this opportunity to seek real change.

ARNOLD: Smith family attorney Al Watkins says he's appalled by the judge's decision. He finds Stockley's story of the shooting difficult to believe.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AL WATKINS: I'm sorry. I don't buy it. I don't buy it for a heartbeat.

ARNOLD: Immediately following the verdict, protesters took to the streets in downtown St. Louis.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) Whose streets?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Our streets.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) Whose streets?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Our streets.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) Whose streets?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Our streets.

ARNOLD: Protester TK Benson says the verdict should be a catalyst for recognizing the deep-seated racism in the judicial system.

TK BENSON: To say that it is heartbreaking would be too much of an understatement. But this generation of black people need to wake up and realize that the system has proven time after time after time that it is against us when it comes to stuff like this.

ARNOLD: Like the protests that erupted in Ferguson following Michael Brown's shooting death at the hands of then-Officer Darren Wilson, activists vowed to protest throughout this weekend and into the coming weeks if necessary. For NPR News, I'm Willis Ryder Arnold in St. Louis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.