Some of the facts in the fatal shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith in December 2011 by former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley are not in dispute.


  • On December 20, 2011, Stockley and his partner Brian Bianchi witnessed a suspected drug transaction in a restaurant parking lot involving Smith.
  • The officers attempted to investigate the transaction.
  • Smith sped away, leading to a high speed police chase.
  • During the chase, a police radio recorded Stockley saying, “we killing this motherfucker, don’t you know.”
  • The police chase ended.
  • Stockley and Bianchi approached Smith’s vehicle.
  • Bianchi called out that Smith was reaching for a gun.
  • Stockley fired five shots into Smith’s vehicle, killing him.
  • Stockley said he recovered a revolver from Smith’s vehicle.


$900K Settlement for “No Wrongdoing”


Routine criminal and departmental investigations were conducted into the shooting of Lamar Smith in 2012. As is often the case, no wrongdoing was found. Stockley nonetheless left the St. Louis police department in August 2013. Later that year the Smith family reached a $900,000 settlement with the St. Louis police board over the fatal shooting.


Years Later DA Brings Indictment for Murder


In May 2016, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce secured a first degree murder indictment against Stockley in connection with the Smith shooting.  The prosecutor cited new evidence to justify the delayed indictment.  The DA never revealed what the new evidence was.


Stockley pled not guilty, waived his right to a jury trial, and elected to be tried before a judge.


On September 15, 2017, St. Louis Circuit Judge Wilson acquitted Stockley of the murder charge. Civil protests immediately enveloped the city of St. Louis.  Judge Wilson has since suffered many attacks on his intellectual honesty after issuing an opinion which appeared to stretch logic and contradict reality.


Police Officer Acquitted by Judge


That Stockley, white, was acquitted by white judge for killing a black man is not surprising.


Two media outlets, the Washington Post and the Guardian, and the civilian tracker Mapping Police Violence place the number of fatal police shootings in this country at roughly 1,000 each year.


The Huffington Post reported last year that of these deadly police shootings, “prosecutors and grand juries around the nation each year have determined that around five of these cases involve misconduct worthy of manslaughter or murder charges. And in the end, the criminal justice system typically concludes that only around one shooting each year is consistent with manslaughter or murder.”


Of 8000 Police Killings, 13 Convicted of Murder or Manslaughter


Phillip Stinson is a professor of criminology at Ohio’s Bowling Green State University. He is recognized as an authority on fatal police shootings and police misconduct. Stinson told the HuffPost that between 2005 and 2013 only 13 officers were convicted of murder or manslaughter in the approximately 8,000 fatal police shootings during that period.


Two of those successful prosecutions involved police officers in Texas and Virginia. Culpepper Town, Virginia police officer Daniel Harmon-Wright was sentenced to three years in jail for the fatal shooting of an unarmed 54-year-old woman; and Conroe, Texas police officer Jason Blackwelder received five years’ probation for the fatal shooting of an unarmed 19-year-old Hispanic man who stole $50 of merchandise from a local Walmart.  Both police officers had been charged with manslaughter.


Accountability for police misconduct is indeed a rare breed, especially in excessive force cases.


Excessive Force


The courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, have approved the use of excessive force by the police under three circumstances: 1) the officer must reasonably believe excessive force is necessary to effect an arrest; 2) excessive force is appropriate to stop a suspect attempting to escape by using deadly force; and 3) excessive force is permissible when the officer believes a suspect poses a risk to life or to inflict serious physical injury.


Admittedly, it is difficult to prosecute a police officer for misconduct given the amount of credibility and discretion given to them by those involved in the criminal justice system.


Prosecution Flawed from Beginning


First, prosecutors elected to charge Stockley with first degree murder. The charge would require the state to prove that Stockley, after deliberation, knowing caused the death of Anthony Smith.  It was first degree murder or nothing. Reaching for murder in the first degree, rather than second degree murder or manslaughter, both of which require a lower threshold of mental state, proved to be a lethal blow to successful prosecution of the criminal case.  It was a high school legal decision made by a seasoned prosecutor more interested in playing politics than letting the facts try the case.


Second, Stockley pled self-defense. The law on this defense is clear: once a defendant raises the defense, the burden shifts to the prosecution to disprove the defense beyond a reasonable doubt. Prosecutors did not call a single witness who could refute the Stockley’s claim of self-defense. The two civilian witnesses, Antonio French and Monte Jodeh, saw the actual shooting but their version of the events did not undermine the self-defense claim. The third witness, police officer Elijah Simpson, did not see or hear the shots fired. Finally, the prosecutor did not, or could not, call Officer Brian Bianchi to dispute Stockley’s testimony that Bianchi hollered that Smith had a gun before Stockley opened fire.


Third, prosecutors theorized that because the only DNA found on the revolver in the Smith vehicle belonged to Stockley that was clear cut evidence that the officer planted the gun. However, the state’s own DNA expert witnesses testified that simply because Smith’s DNA was not on the weapon did not mean he had not touched the gun. In a nutshell, a person can hold a weapon without leaving their DNA on it.


Fourth, while the police videos showed Stockley go to his police unit, they did not reveal that he had an extra gun concealed in his pants pockets or waistband, both of which were clearly visible on the videos, when he returned to Smith’s vehicle. The videos seriously undercut prosecutor’s claim that Stockley planted a weapon in Smith’s vehicle.


Finally, prosecutors theorized that Stockley fired four shots in rapid succession before pausing to fire the fifth “kill shot.” She did not call a single witness to support this theory and the audio with the police videos did not support a pause between the first four shots and the fifth shot.


Factors Justifying Conviction on Lesser Homicide


The fact that Stockley’s police unit recorded his statement, “we’re gonna kill this {mf} …” certainly indicates some determination to use excessive force.


Furthermore, the fact that Stockley exited his vehicle carrying both his department-issued weapon and his personal AK-47 pistol indicates additional determination to use excessive force.


Whether it was the lapse of time or just a shoddy police investigation, the facts, as presented by the prosecutors, failed to make the grade.


What was Proper Charge?


The issue, then, was whether Stockley’s use of excessive force constituted first degree murder or some lesser charge.


Under Missouri law governing first degree murder, prosecutor Joyce had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Stockley intentionally and deliberately killed Smith without a justified reason. The prosecutor simply did not have “beyond a reasonable doubt” evidence that Stockley “intentionally and deliberately” killed Smith “without a justified reason.”


However, there are two lesser degrees of homicide that Stockley could have been convicted of had prosecutors given the judge those options: second degree murder (without premeditation) or voluntary manslaughter (“heat of passion” killing).


There was certainly sufficient evidence of the latter given Stockley’s angry remark that “we’re gonna kill this [mf} …” during the pursuit.


Time for Widespread Criminal Justice Reform


Most people will blame the judge for the acquittal, and his opinion that reached for an acquittal justifies such criticism.   But whatever fault that may exist in this tragic case rest with the prosecution. The prosecutor had sufficient evidence for a second degree or manslaughter conviction but not a first-degree murder conviction. She nonetheless chose to go for a home run when a base hit would have won the game. Why?  We may never know.


We believe the criminal justice system failed in the Jason Stockley case.  The community has reason to be disappointed with another failure of the judicial system to successfully prosecute the unjustified killing of a black man by a police office.  This country needs systemic criminal justice reform.  The time to start now…