ST. LOUIS • A former St. Louis police officer has been arrested and charged with first-degree murder for the on-duty shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith — an incident that led to one of the largest wrongful-death settlements stemming from a police shooting in the city’s history, the Post-Dispatch has learned.
Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce’s office on Monday charged Jason Stockley, 35, of Houston. St. Louis police and U.S. marshals arrested Stockley on Monday at his home in the 6300 block of Chevy Chase Drive in Houston.
St. Louis Circuit Judge Michael Mullen ordered Stockley held without bail. He is in custody in Harris County, Texas.
“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,” Joyce said. “So it’s disappointing in that regard, but it’s important that people understand that if you commit a crime, and we have the 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.”
Dotson said Joyce's decision to charge Stockley was the "culmination of years of investigative work," in a prepared statement he issued Tuesday.
“The department spent countless hours on this case, all in an effort to ascertain the true facts of what occurred on December 20, 2011," he said. "I hold my officers to the highest standards. Stockley’s actions were in no way representative of the dedicated service of the men and women who serve on this department."
Dotson defined those actions as violations of the department's pursuit policy and using an unauthorized personally-owned AK47 on duty.
After shooting at Smith’s car, Stockley and his partner, Officer Brian Bianchi, chased the victim at speeds over 80 mph. While in pursuit, the police SUV crashed, backed up and continued following Smith’s vehicle.
During the chase, Stockley says, “going to kill this (expletive deleted), don’t you know it,” according to court documents filed Monday. As Smith’s car was slowing to a stop, Stockley tells Bianchi to “hit him right now,” at which point the driver slams the police SUV into Smith’s car. Court documents did not disclose the source of the quotes.
Stockley then approached Smith’s car on the driver’s side and shot five times into the car, striking Smith with each shot. A gun was recovered from the victim’s car, but lab analysis revealed the presence of only Stockley’s DNA, according to the documents.
In 2013, the Board of Police Commissioners settled a federal wrongful-death lawsuit for $900,000 in connection with the shooting, according to information obtained by the Post-Dispatch.
The suit was filed on behalf of Smith’s daughter, Autumn B. Smith, then 1 year old. A confidentiality agreement prevented attorney Albert Watkins from confirming the amount, but he said, “I’d be hard-pressed to find any other verdict or settlement that gave rise to a higher payout.”
The murder charge follows a public call by activists in late April demanding that Stockley, who is white, be charged with the murder of Smith, who is black. The Post-Dispatch and activists filed requests under Missouri’s Sunshine Law seeking documents, video and audio evidence associated with the case.
Investigative materials regarding the shooting have been sealed under a protective order that city and state attorneys sought in 2012 as part of the settlement of the civil suit. The Post-Dispatch filed a motion in federal court Thursday to have the protective order lifted. Watkins agreed, but Attorney General Chris Koster’s office, who represented the police board and Stockley in the case, has not responded.
The police board, which is now represented by the city due to a law change, said it would not oppose the Post-Dispatch’s request.
Police said the events unfolded when Stockley and his partner, Bianchi, spotted Smith in a suspected drug transaction in a Church’s Chicken parking lot at Thekla Avenue and Riverview Boulevard. As the officers approached Smith’s vehicle, Stockley carried his personal AK-47 — a violation of department policy that forbids officers from carrying their own weapons.
Police have said that Smith allegedly reached for something inside his car and Stockley fired his department-issued Beretta when Smith drove toward the officers. No one was wounded at that point.
The pursuit began, and it ended in a crash about a mile away. Stockley said Smith reached for something, and Stockley shot him in the car. In addition to the revolver found in Smith’s vehicle, police said they also found heroin.
The shooting occurred under Chief Dan Isom’s administration, and while the police department was under the state’s control. In 2012, Joyce said, the police department sent its investigation into Smith’s shooting to her office for an “informal review” after U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan’s office declined to prosecute the case.
Isom also put Stockley on desk duty.
Callahan said that his office reviewed the case from January through
October 2012 with an FBI investigation that included “some grand jury matters.”
He said he then forwarded the case to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division for a review and has not received a response.
Meanwhile, Sam Dotson became police chief. He ordered a $5,500 forensic analysis of the in-car video and audio, which became part of the investigation. While awaiting a response from the Justice Department, Dotson suspended Stockley for 30 days. Stockley resigned Aug. 16, 2013.
As of Monday, local authorities still were awaiting word from the Justice Department.
Dena Iverson, a Justice Department spokeswoman, wrote in a statement Monday, “The matter remains open, and the department declines to comment further.”
Activists were critical of the Justice Department during their news conference in April.
“The Department of Justice has had the information on this and has not moved,” the Rev. Phillip Duvall said.
Neither had Joyce’s office, until recently.
Dotson said he had conversations with Joyce regarding the case shortly after he became chief in 2013. Dotson declined to comment further, citing a pending investigation.
Duvall lauded Joyce in a statement Monday and said activists still want the Justice Department to look more closely at the case.
Joyce said in an interview Monday that Isom’s administration never formally presented her office with the case, and that Callahan’s office called her prosecutors to “informally review” the case at the end of 2012.
“The video alone is not sufficient for charges, but it’s very concerning,” Joyce said, adding that she would not release the evidence because of the pending case.
“As troubling as this case was, there was not sufficient evidence to file charges at that time,” she said.
One of the first cases Joyce prosecuted was a second-degree murder charge against a former city police officer for the 1999 beating death of a burglary suspect on the roof of a pawnshop. A jury acquitted the officer, Robert Dodson.
“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,” Joyce said.
She said she had not personally seen the video until about three weeks ago, and was also unaware, until then, that forensic scientists found only Stockley’s DNA on the gun recovered from Smith’s car.
“I feel like this case has gone as fast as it could have,” Joyce said.
She said new protocols instituted by Dotson should ensure that such delays won’t play out in future police shootings because the department’s Force Investigation Unit consults directly with her office on every shooting.
She declined to comment on whether Stockley’s partner, Bianchi, would face any charges. His attorney could not be reached for comment.
Stockley graduated from Althoff Catholic High School in Belleville in 1998, and went on to West Point. He then went on to be awarded an Army Bronze Star in combat in Iraq. He joined the police department in 2007.
An online résumé shows he last worked as a regional project manager for TH Hill Associates. In that role, he worked to reduce non-productive time associated with oil drilling operations in the Middle East, Africa and Europe.
The company confirmed his employment ended Jan. 7 of this year but would not say whether he resigned or was fired.
St. Louis Police Officers’ Association Business Manager Jeff Roorda referred questions to Stockley’s attorney, Neil Bruntrager, who could not be reached for comment.
Anthony Lamar Smith
Smith’s childhood history is unclear. Activist Anthony Shahid shielded Smith’s mother, Annie Smith, from interviews during the press conference in April, saying she was too emotionally distraught to talk to a reporter.
He said she believed Stockley had been in jail. It’s not clear why she believed that. When she found out Stockley wasn’t in jail, she asked Shahid for help, he said.
Court records show Smith had a history of unlawful use of a weapon, stealing, drug possession and driving with a revoked license. He was on probation at the time of his death for a stealing case stemming from an incident in Ferguson in 2010.
An autopsy report obtained by the Post-Dispatch showed Smith had marijuana in his system at the time of his death and had been shot multiple times.
Stockley’s father, Jerry Stockley Sr., who lives in Metro East, said in a phone interview that his son graduated from Althoff, where he was a standout wrestler and football player. He said he was proud when he attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and that he served a 15-month tour in Iraq with the Army.
“He didn’t do this,” said Jerry Stockley. “He is a police officer. He stopped a criminal who challenged the law and lost. He was guilty. They cleared him last time, so why go back?”
He attributed the sudden charges against his son to “a change in the country, which is frightening.”
“He’s a very bright young man, a very, very good boy,” Jerry Stockley said. “I never had an ounce of trouble out of either (Jason Stockley or his older brother, Jerry Jr.). He did what was right and respects the law.”
Joel Currier and Robert Patrick of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.
Christine Byers • 314-340-8087
@christinedbyers on Twitter
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