A weekend of violent protests: Breaking down the police killing of Anthony Lamar Smith in St. Louis

Protests entered a fourth day Monday in St. Louis after last week’s acquittal of a white police officer charged with first degree murder in the 2011 killing of a black suspect.

More than 120 people were arrested Sunday, according to the Associated Press. Since Friday, peaceful protests have been held during the day, but violence and vandalism have gripped the community each night, with at least 10 police officers suffering injuries as people hurled rocks and bricks at them.

On Friday, a judge announced a not guilty verdict for Jason Stockley, the 36-year-old former St. Louis police officer charged in the shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith. Stockley and officer Brian Bianchi approached Smith in a parking lot during a suspected drug deal on Dec. 20, 2011. The officers pulled up behind Smith, stopping slightly behind his vehicle.

“As I exited the passenger side of the police vehicle, (police officer) Bianchi alerted me that there appeared to be a weapon,” Stockley wrote in a memo after the incident. “As I exited the vehicle I had in my possession a personal weapon, an AK-47 pistol.”

Smith immediately pulled forward, then threw the car into reverse, repeating the maneuver a couple times in order to flee the parking lot, bumping the police SUV and grazing Stockley in the process.

“Before striking me, I observed, in plain view in the subject’s hands while resting on the passenger seat, a silver handgun,” Stockley wrote. “The handgun was pointing up and towards me.”

Stockley fired his weapon at the fleeing car before the officers engaged Smith in a high speed chase. “Going to kill this motherfucker, don’t you know it,” Stockley said during the chase, according to court documents.

“Hit him, right now,” Stockley can be heard telling Bianchi in dash cam video as they caught up to Smith a few minutes later. With Bianchi at the wheel, the police SUV slammed into Smith’s vehicle, ending the chase. Both officers got out and approached the driver side of the vehicle.

“As I got to the driver side window, I lifted the airbags so that I could see the subject clearly,” Stockley wrote. “I made eye contact with the subject who, throughout the remainder of the incident, stared at me while saying nothing. Both Bianchi and I instructed the subject to show his hands and stop moving. It should be noted that the subject’s right hand was reaching between the passenger seat and the center console.”

“As the subject continued reaching deeper into the area between the passenger seat and the center console, it was my belief because of the way he moved, that he had gained control of the handgun,” Stockley continued. “Again I instructed him to show me his hands but he refused.”

Less than a minute after talking about killing Smith, Stockley opened fire on the man, shooting him five times and killing him. “In fear for my safety and that of my partner, I discharged my department issued firearm at the subject striking him in the chest,” he wrote after the incident.

Dash cam video and a video recorded by a bystander show Stockley rummage through a duffle bag in the backseat of the police SUV shortly after the shooting. Then, after officers took Smith out of the driver side of his vehicle, Stockley sat in Smith’s driver seat. Prosecutors argued Stockley planted a handgun in those moments, citing evidence that showed only Stockley’s DNA on the weapon, and none of Smith’s. But experts testified that “the absence of a person’s DNA on a gun does not mean that person did not touch the gun.”

St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Timothy Wilson on Friday wrote in his ruling that “the Court observes, based on its nearly thirty years on the bench, that an urban heroin dealer not in possession of a firearm would be an anomaly.”

“No one promised a rose garden, and this surely is not one,” Wilson wrote. “Missouri law requires that the trier of fact be ‘firmly convinced’ of the defendant’s guilt in order to convict.”

“This court, as the trier of fact, is simply not firmly convinced of defendant’s guilt,” he continued.

The reaction was swift. On Friday, police said “agitators” had thrown rocks through the windows of St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson’s home “despite being instructed not to.” They also splattered red paint on the mayor’s house.

On Sunday, demonstrators damaged property in downtown St. Louis, while others protested in two shopping malls in an affluent area of St. Louis County. In the incident downtown, about 100 people knocked over planters and broke storefront windows. As they made arrests, multiple people reported hearing officers chanting “whose street, our street” — a popular refrain for protestors nationwide who have spoken out against police misconduct.

Stockley told the St. Louis Post Dispatch it felt like a burden had been lifted, “but the burden of having to kill someone never really lifts.”

“I did not murder Anthony Lamar Smith. I did not plant a gun,” he said. “It was an imminent threat to my life. I had to. Taking of a life is the most significant thing that one can do and it’s not something that is done lightly, and it’s not something that should ever be celebrated, and it’s just a horrible experience altogether. But sometimes, it’s necessary.”

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