ST. LOUIS (Reuters) – A decision is expected on Friday in the murder trial of a former St. Louis police officer charged with fatally shooting a black man in 2011 after a car chase, and state officials fear a violent reaction if the officer is found not guilty.
Jason Stockley, 36, who is white, was arrested in May 2016 and charged with first-degree murder, accused of intentionally killing Anthony Lamar Smith and planting a gun in his car. Stockley testified he acted in self-defense.
Officials fear a repeat of the violent protests and racial tensions that followed the 2014 fatal shooting by police of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, near St. Louis.
U.S. police have come under heightened scrutiny after killings of numerous unarmed black people in recent years triggered widespread protests.
St. Louis law enforcement officials, who asked not to be named, previously said they expect Judge Timothy Wilson’s ruling sometime Friday. The wait has left St. Louis on edge.
Activists have promised major demonstrations if Stockley is acquitted. Missouri Governor Eric Greitens on Thursday put the National Guard on standby.
Authorities say Smith, 24, tried to flee from Stockley on Dec. 20, 2011. During a pursuit, Stockley could be heard saying on an internal police car video that he was going to kill Smith, prosecutors said.
Stockley, a passenger in the patrol vehicle with his personal AK-47 in one hand and department-issued weapon in the other, shot at Smith’s car, according to St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Susan Ryan and charging documents. Stockley and his partner chased Smith at speeds exceeding 80 miles per hour, the documents said.
Smith’s car began slowing to a stop when Stockley directed his partner to smash into Smith’s vehicle. The driver slammed the police vehicle into Smith’s car, and Stockley then approached the driver’s side and shot Smith five times, court documents said.
Stockley shot in self-defense, his lawyers said. But prosecutors said the only gun recovered from the scene had only Stockley’s DNA on it.
Stockley, who maintained his innocence, waived his right to a jury trial, allowing the judge to decide. He left the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department in 2013, and additional evidence led to his arrest last year.
Smith’s family in 2013 settled a lawsuit filed against the city for $900,000, the family’s lawyer, Albert Watkins, said.
Reporting by Kenny Bahr in St. Louis; Editing by Leslie Adler