By Kyle Mannisi, Opinions Editor
Before we witnessed the tragedies of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling, and Sandra Bland, there was Anthony Lamar Smith. Closing arguments in his case ended on August 9th, but Judge Timothy Wilson’s verdict for former St. Louis Metropolitan officer Jason Stockley has not yet been delivered.
Stockley is on trial for the first degree murder of 24-year-old Smith, which occurred in December 2011. The disturbing event, which were captured by the officer’s dashboard camera system and eyewitness cell phone footage, began as Stockley and fellow officer Brian Bianchi encountered Smith outside of a Church’s Chicken restaurant after witnessing a “suspected drug deal.”
Smith was backing out of a parking spot and the officers parked their police SUV behind him in an effort to block him in. Smith then panicked and attempted to speed away. In the process, he backed into the squad car and then brushed against the AK-47 bearing Stockley, who was on foot. In response, Stockley fired seven shots at the fleeing vehicle with his service pistol. Upon returning to their vehicles, Stockley and Bianchi sped through neighborhoods at speeds up to 87 mph, at one point skidding out of control and crashing into an electric pole on the wintery north St. Louis streets.
The officers continued their pursuit, as Stockley told his partner Bianchi that he intended to “kill this (expletive).” Less than a minute later, Smith lost control of his vehicle and Stockley ordered Bianchi, who was driving, to ram into Smith. After the collision, Smith remained in the driver’s seat while Stockley approached, shooting Smith five times, including a ‘kill shot’ that was fired within 6 inches of Smith’s body.
In the minutes that followed, more police officers arrived to the scene. Stockley and other officers pulled Smith’s slain body from his seat and let him lay in the street. One officer entered the now-vacant driver’s seat and began to search for anything that would justify the actions they took, be it guns or drugs.
Officer Stockley told investigators that he saw a silver .38-caliber revolver pistol in Smith’s car in the Church’s parking lot, and believed he was in danger of his life. Police later recovered a small bag of heroin from Smith’s car.
Later forensic analysis showed both the bag of heroin and the revolver instead contained Stockley’s DNA, and not Smith’s.
The more probable scenario is that Stockley kept heroin and weapons in his vehicle in order to implicate otherwise-innocent suspects. It is worth noting that Stockley did not find the bag of heroin in Smith’s car, but rather other officers did. There is simply no logical explanation for why Stockley’s DNA was found on the heroin unless it was handled by Stockley and planted there for other officers to discover. Stockley was a routine patrol officer, yet he knew to act in self-preservation after the incident by planting evidence when he found Smith to be in possession of nothing criminally actionable.
St. Louisans on all sides of this trial have been preparing for the worst, as demonstrators and clergy alike announce plans for marches, vigils, and protests throughout the city if justice is not delivered in this case. Barricades have been erected by police outside of Carnahan Courthouse downtown, local stores have reportedly even stocked up on plywood to board up their windows, and Governor Eric Greitens has threatened activating the Missouri National Guard.
City and county officials have made it clear that they intend to do everything they can to prevent another Ferguson-esque uprising. Despite their efforts, if a not-guilty verdict is returned, St. Louis will undoubtedly see massive civil unrest. How can police expect to impose law and order when there is no order to the law?
If Stockley is exonerated, it will likely confirm many people’s perceptions that police officers have the legal capacity to act extrajudicially and without accountability. When a community is subjected to this kind of repeated and systemic injustice, civil unrest is often the only form of effective resistance left at their disposal.
Currently, the verdict is being withheld from public knowledge until further notice. The brazen nature of Stockley’s alleged crimes raises serious questions about police ethics and accountability. Officer Stockley recklessly fired his weapon at a fleeing car multiple times, engaged in a high-speed pursuit, displayed premeditation before brutally killing Smith, and attempted to plant evidence to justify his crime. Stockley’s actions certainly warrant a first degree murder charge, and any lesser sentence would be simply inadequate.