White Officer Acquitted in Fatal Shooting of Black Driver Near Ferguson


The defense argued that Mr. Stockley acted reasonably in fatally shooting a suspect in a drug deal that the officer had tried to stop before the car chase took place. Defense lawyers have said that the officer believed Mr. Smith was armed, and was reaching for a gun — the weapon that was found in his car after the shooting. Mr. Smith was shot five times.

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Jason Stockley, a former St. Louis police officer, was acquitted of first-degree murder on Friday.

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St. Louis Police Department, via Associated Press

The encounter, in December 2011, began when Officer Stockley and his partner, Brian Bianchi, driving a police S.U.V., suspected that Mr. Smith was involved in a drug deal in a Church’s Chicken parking lot and attempted to approach him, police said.

As he moved toward Mr. Smith’s car, Mr. Stockley carried his own AK-47, an unauthorized weapon, as well as his service gun. According to department policy, officers are forbidden from carrying personal weapons.

Officer Stockley and Officer Bianchi said that they saw Mr. Smith holding a handgun. As Mr. Smith sped away in his Buick, Mr. Stockley fired seven shots with his service weapon.

The second, fatal confrontation occurred not far away, a short time later.

Mr. Stockley, who is in his mid-30s, resigned from the St. Louis police department in 2013. Before joining the police force, he served in the Army and spent a 15-month tour of duty in Iraq.

The killing resulted in a wrongful-death settlement of $900,000, brought on behalf of Mr. Smith’s infant daughter.

The case has been closely watched in St. Louis and city leaders, while preparing for unrest in reaction to the verdict, have pleaded for calm.

Mayor Lyda Krewson, who took office in April, has urged St. Louis residents to remain peaceful.

“It is our choice now to continue to yell past each other and keep our minds closed or to consider how we might acknowledge what we’ve inherited and what we perpetuate and how we might learn about it, and how to choose a different way forward,” she said in a statement earlier this month.

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Anthony Lamar Smith, with his daughter Autumn Smith, was fatally shoot by a St. Louis officer in 2011.

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Christina Wilson, via Associated Press

Mr. Greitens, the governor, and Mr. Smith’s fiancée, Christina Wilson, spoke together in St. Louis on Thursday night and asked that any protests after the verdict remain nonviolent. The St. Louis police department said that on Friday, they would require officers to begin working 12-hour shifts to prepare for possible protests and unrest.

“If you feel like you want to speak out, speak how you feel and whatever comes to you — just do it in a peaceful way,” Ms. Wilson said. “We’re not going to do violence as the answer.”

Mr. Greitens, a first-term Republican who has criticized his predecessor’s handling of the unrest in Ferguson, said he was inspired by Ms. Wilson and that he hoped demonstrators would honor her request. He also met with members of Missouri’s Legislative Black Caucus to discuss the case.

Three years ago, the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, by Darren Wilson, a white police officer in Ferguson, set off waves of protest over police conduct and the treatment of black residents and led to a Justice Department investigation that found Ferguson had engaged in constitutional violations and needed to overhaul its criminal justice system. Mr. Wilson was not charged. Protests that followed the shooting in August of 2014 and a grand jury decision not to indict Mr. Wilson later that year grew tense, and, at times, violent. Buildings were set on fire and some businesses looted.

Tensions have remained high in this region in the years since. On the first anniversary of Mr. Brown’s death, police officers shot and wounded an armed man at the scene of a large protest in Ferguson. And in St. Louis, protesters marched after the fatal 2015 police shooting of an 18-year-old man and, just last month, the fatal shooting of a transgender woman by city officers.

On Thursday night, Mr. Greitens urged calm in this case.

“One life has been lost in this case, and we don’t need more bloodshed,” Mr. Greitens said. “We need peace, we need love, we need understanding and we need compassion for one another.”

Mr. Greitens, who earlier on Thursday had placed the Missouri National Guard on standby, did not take questions from reporters.

“Whatever the verdict is,” Mr. Greitens said, “we will protect every single person’s right to peacefully protest. And whatever the verdict is, we will also protect people’s lives, their homes and our communities.”

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