ST. LOUIS (CN) – A former St. Louis police officer on trial for the December 2011 murder of Anthony Smith took the stand in his defense Tuesday.
Jason Stockley, 36, who is charged with first-degree murder and armed criminal action, testified that his partner yelled “Gun!” and he saw the barrel of a gun in Smith’s hand during an arrest attempt on Dec. 20, 2011, which preceded the high-speed chase that ended in Smith’s death.
Smith, 24-year-old black man, was the father of a 1-year-old daughter and had been convicted of gun and drug crimes. He led officers on a three-mile chase at speeds that reached at least 87 mph through city neighborhoods before crashing his vehicle. It was then that Stockley fatally shot Smith, saying he believed Smith was reaching for a gun.
Stockley, who is white, testified that he and his partner, Officer Brian Bianchi, were in a fast food restaurant parking lot when he saw what he believed to be a hand-to-hand drug deal between two people, one of which was Smith.
Smith got into his car and used it to twice strike the police car.
Stockley testified he saw through the passenger window that Smith had his left hand on the steering wheel and his right hand was holding a silver revolver atop the passenger seat.
When Smith fled, Stockley fired at the car, saying that he felt justified in using deadly force.
Stockley was carrying his personal Draco AK-47 pistol that day, in violation of department policy. He claimed he knew he was violating policy, but said he had been at the scene of several murders where military grade shell casings were found and that he valued his life and the lives of fellow officers more than the policy.
The former officer did testify that he did not fire his personal weapon at Smith because it was more powerful and he didn’t want to endanger the lives of Bianchi or bystanders.
Stockley fired several shots into Smith’s car about 15 seconds after rear-ending him to end the pursuit. Stockley claims he believed Smith was reaching for a gun when he fired.
The former officer returned to his police SUV and put his personal gun inside. He re-entered Smith’s vehicle after police pulled his body out, at which time prosecutors say Stockley planted a .38 caliber Taurus revolver inside Smith’s car.
Police reports say Stockley’s DNA, not Smith’s, was on the Taurus.
Stockley claims he doesn’t remember saying “I’m going to kill this (expletive)” during the chase, but acknowledged he said it after reviewing the tapes.
First Assistant Circuit Attorney Robert Steele, during an intense cross-examination, focused on why Stockley violated department policy by carrying his personal AK-47 pistol while on duty. He also repeatedly asked why Stockley, and not any of the at least 10 other officers at the scene, re-entered Smith’s car after the shooting.
The defense rested their case shortly before 4 p.m. Closing arguments are scheduled for Wednesday. Stockley has waived his right to a jury trial so St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson will decide the case.
About a dozen activists held vigil outside of the courthouse holding signs saying “No Lives Can Matter Until Black and Brown Lives Matter.”
“This case is obvious murder,” Cat Daniels told Courthouse News. “I’m glad they finally figured that out and he can finally stand trial, but how many (police) have not stood trial for murdering innocent people and children? So this case is very important. It sets the precedent. We’re not going to be silent anymore.”
Daniels said more programs, such as community policing, are needed.
Meldon Moffitt hopes a guilty verdict will have a nationwide ripple effect.
“This is the message we want to send across the country,” Moffitt said. “Since we pay their salaries, put them in a police car, put a gun on their hip, that doesn’t mean they can just come into my community and kill somebody.”
Gina Torres was there to support the Smith family, but to also bring attention to the police shooting death of her son Isaiah Hammett earlier this year.
Torres said police, without announcing themselves, busted into the house where Hammett and his grandfather were and gunned him down. She says the AK-47 police claimed he shot at them with was not functional.
Torres passed out flyers with information questioning the police’s account of Hammett’s death, including the validity of a search warrant that wasn’t produced until several hours after the shooting.
“We pay their checks, we don’t pay them to kill us,” Torres said. “If he (Stockley) gets found guilty, maybe they (police) will stop killing us.”