Houston, TX -- In what has become too rare a move, a former St. Louis police officer has been arrested and charged with first-degree murder for the shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith — which happened nearly five years ago. Ex-Officer Jason Stockley was arrested by St. Louis police and U.S. marshals at his home in Houston Monday, and is being held without bail in Harris County, Texas, by order from Circuit Judge Michael Mullen.
Smith’s murder led to “one of the largest wrongful-death settlements stemming from a police shooting in the city’s history,” reported the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
“I’m disappointed because I know what fine public servants the vast majority of police officers are, and this kind of conduct on the part of this former officer doesn’t reflect the excellent work I see from them every day,”noted Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce on Monday. “So it’s disappointing in that regard, but it’s important that people understand that if you commit a crime, and we have evidence to prove it, it doesn’t matter to us what you do for a living. Our job is to hold people accountable if we have the evidence. And in this case, we do.”
She added, “The actions of this former officer are very concerning in this case.”
On December 20, 2011, Stockley and his partner Brian Bianchi observed what they believed to be a drug transaction, and then approached Smith’s vehicle — Stockley, against department policy, carried his personal AK-47 toward the car. Claiming they saw Smith reach for something, Stockley fired his department-issued Beretta as Smith drove his vehicle toward the officers, but the shot did not injure anyone.
Smith drove off and the officers initiated a pursuit with Bianchi behind the wheel — which reached speeds of over 80 mph. At one point, the cruiser hit a utility pole, and Bianchi backed up and maintained pursuit.
During the chase, Stockley, according to court documents filed on Monday, said, “Going to kill this motherfucker, don’t you know it.” As Smith’s vehicle slowed, Stockley demanded Bianchi “hit him right now,” at which point Bianchi slammed the police SUV into Smith’s car. Then, as a press release [with emphasis added] from the Circuit Attorney explains:
“Stockley then approached Smith’s car on the driver’s side and shot five times into the car, striking the victim Anthony Smith with each shot. The victim died as a result of the gunshot wounds. A gun was recovered from the victim’s car but was later determined by lab analysis to have only Stockley’s DNA on it.”
Police also claimed heroin was found inside Smith's vehicle — though considering information concerning the weapon, and that only marijuana was found in his system upon autopsy — that detail remains questionable.
As the Post-Dispatch reported at the time of the shooting, Smith’s pregnant girlfriend and mother of his then-one-year-old daughter, Christina Wilson, had been on the phone with him as Stockley killed him.
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“He was crying for help,” Wilson said at the time. “I could hear him moaning, ‘Oh, oh.’”
A lawsuit was filed on behalf of Wilson and Smith’s daughter, Autumn, demanding $900,000, which the Board of Police Commissioners settled in 2013 for an undisclosed amount, due to a confidentiality agreement — though attorney Albert Watkins stated of the total, “I’d be hard-pressed to find any other verdict or settlement that gave rise to a higher payout.”
Stockley, an Iraq war veteran who was awarded an Army Bronze Star for combat duty, resigned from the St. Louis Police Department on August 16, 2013, while under suspension for Smith’s shooting death.
Activists publicly demanded Stockley, who is white, be charged with the murder of Smith, who is black. Both the activists and the Post-Dispatch filed for documents, video, and audio surrounding the shooting to be released under Missouri’s Sunshine Law.
On Thursday, the Post-Dispatch says it requested the lifting of a protective order which has sealed investigative materials since 2012 — to which the police board, now represented by the city after a change in law, said it would not protest.
Joyce’s office received material concerning Smith’s shooting after U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan’s office refused to prosecute Stockley, though Callahan said he forwarded the case to the Department of Justice’ Civil Rights Division and has not received a response.
“The matter remains open, and the department declines to comment further,” said Dena Iverson, DoJ spokeswoman, on Monday.
Joyce had not seen video of the shooting until three weeks ago — and had also been unaware only Stockley’s DNA was found on the gun in Smith’s car. She cautioned,
“The conviction rate on these cases nationally is 10 percent, and very rarely are they charged because of how laws are set up, and it’s rare to get a guilty verdict.”
As the matter remains open to discovery pursuant to trial, and because the shooting took place in a public setting, in part in front of a popular restaurant, Joyce also requested help from the community-at-large, saying, “We believe that others may have more information. We encourage anyone with information to come forward.”
With what has often been described as a national epidemic of police violence, charging Stockley with first-degree murder and his being held without bail are certainly welcome. Whether or not Stockley will be held responsible for the whole of his crime remains to be seen.