ST. LOUIS (AP) — As a judge weighs evidence in the first-degree murder case against a former white St. Louis police officer charged with killing a black suspect, there is growing uneasiness that the city could see the sort of unrest that followed the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson three years ago.
Jason Stockley is charged with fatally shooting Anthony Lamar Smith in 2011 after a chase. Stockley’s trial ended Aug. 9. Judge Timothy Wilson, who will decide the case because Stockley opted for a bench trial, gave attorneys until Aug. 18 to file post-trial summaries.
Two weeks later, it’s unclear when Wilson will rule.
The case rekindles racial tension, as Stockley, 36, is white and Smith, 24, was black.
If Stockley is acquitted, activists are pledging civil disobedience that could include shutting down highways and Lambert Airport. They have also threatened to disrupt downtown businesses. In anticipation of unrest, barricades now surround the Carnahan Courthouse where the trial was held, the civil courts building, and police headquarters.
“It’s going to look a lot like Ferguson. It’s going to be a hundred-plus days, three hundred-plus days of direct action,” activist Tory Russell said Monday during a rally on the Carnahan Courthouse steps. Russell and dozens of other activists participated in planning meetings this week that included resistance training. Several black pastors at the Monday rally pledged their full support.
“It seems like justice has eluded us in our community,” the Rev. Clinton Stancil said.
In August 2014, 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was black and unarmed, was killed by white Ferguson officer Darren Wilson. Angry protests followed, re-escalating in November 2014 when a St. Louis County grand jury declined to indict Wilson, who resigned that month.
St. Louis Sheriff Vernon Betts, whose office protects court buildings, said Friday that he has met several times with the judge, police leaders and others about the possibility of unrest. He said the judge has offered no hints about which way he’ll rule, or when.
Betts said he suggested a late-evening verdict announcement, when the courthouses are mostly empty and downtown workers have gone home. He also asked the judge for enough notice so courthouse workers can leave if they want to, or for authorities to order mandatory evacuations, if necessary.
“If the protest gets violent in any kind of way, we’re going to shut the buildings down,” Betts said.
St. Louis police spokeswoman Leah Freeman said barricades went up Monday at sites of recent and potential future protests.
“Due to recent events around the country, the department is being proactive in ensuring the safety of citizens,” Freeman said.
It wasn’t clear if Gov. Eric Greitens would send in the Missouri State Highway Patrol to help as it did in Ferguson, or activate the National Guard. Spokesman Parker Briden said the governor’s office is “monitoring the situation and the state is prepared to respond as necessary.” A spokesman for the patrol offered a similar message.
Greitens, a Republican, has been critical of the response in Ferguson by his Democratic predecessor, Jay Nixon. “If our leaders had shown up, with command presence, courage, calm, compassion and clarity, we could’ve had peace by the second night,” Greitens said earlier this year.
Anthony Smith, a drug suspect, was shot five times in his car after a chase in December 2011. Stockley testified that he saw Smith holding a gun before the chase began and that he felt he was in imminent danger when he shot him.
Assistant Circuit Attorney Robert Steele in closing arguments cited dashboard camera video during the chase that captured Stockley saying, “Going to kill this (expletive), don’t you know it.” Less than a minute later, he shot Smith.
Stockley’s attorney, Neil Bruntrager, dismissed the comment as “human emotions” in the heat of a dangerous chase.
Stockley opened fire only when Smith refused commands to put up his hands and reached along the vehicle’s seat “in the area where the gun was,” Bruntrager said.
A gun was later found in Smith’s car, but Steele has said the weapon “was a plant” that had Stockley’s DNA, but not Smith’s.
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