ST. LOUIS — Violent protests erupted Friday following the acquittal of a white police officer in the 2011 shooting death of a black motorist.
A white former police officer was acquitted Friday in the 2011 death of a black man who was fatally shot following a high-speed chase, with the judge declaring that he would not be swayed by “partisan interests, public clamor or fear of criticism.”
The acquittal of Jason Stockley in the death of Anthony Lamar Smith had stirred concerns about possible civil unrest for weeks.
So far, 13 protesters have been arrested and four police officers injured.
Right after the not guilty verdict was handed down, demonstrators gathered outside the courthouse. Things began peacefully, but by this evening, the clashes got more violent. Hundreds voiced their anger while marching through the streets.
“They were shocked. It was beyond speechless," said Smith family attorney Albert Watkins, about the family’s reaction to the acquittal.
"Quite frankly the family clearly is sorely disappointed. The community will be appropriately sorely disappointed and all that we can hope for and pray for is that there is peace in the days to come rather than what we unfortunately fear may occur,” added Watkins.
In December of 2011, the then officer, who is white, Stockley, shot 24-year-old Anthony Lamar Smith, five times, after a high speed chase and crash. Stockley said he acted in self-defense and believed Smith was reaching for a gun in his car.
Prosecutors accused the officer of planting a gun to justify the shooting. The defendant waived his right to a jury trial, leaving the ruling up to a judge.
The firestorm was set off after a judge found Stockley not guilty of first degree murder.
"Needless to say, I'm disappointed with the court's decision. While officer-involved shootings are very difficult to obtain a guilty verdict, I am confident that we presented sufficient evidence at a trial to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Jason Stockley was guilty of murder in the first degree. But at the end of the day, it was the judge who served as the finder of fact, and in this case, who had the legal duty to determine the outcome of this case,” said Kim Gardner, St. Louis Circuit attorney.
The case played out not far from the suburb of Ferguson, which was the scene of the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, who was killed by a white police officer in 2014. That officer, Darren Wilson, was never charged, but eventually resigned. Brown’s father reacted to the verdict today.
"Y'all know this ain't right and y'all continuously to do it. You know what I'm saying, to us, man, like we don't mean nothin', like we rats, dogs, trash in the street. Our lives do matter too, you know what I'm sayin', and people love us. We got lovers out here that want to see us prosper and God just getting rid of us,” said Mike Brown, Sr.
Most of the protests started peacefully but got more heated as the day went along.
Soon, protesters were facing off with police in riot gear.
This evening, the St. Louis Police Dept. tweeted that the protests were “NO LONGER CONSIDERED PEACEFUL.” Police also tweeted pictures of rocks and water bottles they say were thrown at them, forcing them to use pepper spray.