Protesters gather outside of the courthouse, Friday, Sept. 15, 2017, in downtown St. Louis, after a judge found a white former St. Louis police officer, Jason Stockley, not guilty of first-degree murder in the death of a black man, Anthony Lamar Smith, who was fatally shot following a high-speed chase in 2011. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Protests broke out in St. Louis last September, following the acquittal of former St. Louis Police Officer, Jason Stockley. Stockley had been charged with murder in the 2011 shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith. Smith, a drug suspect, was shot in his car by Stockley following a high-speed chase.
The case was reviewed by the FBI, but both the US Attorney and the Department of Justice declined to prosecute. Then, in 2016, shortly before she left office, then-Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce announced she had been made aware of “new evidence,” and had decided to charge Stockley. The case was tried by Judge Tim Wilson (Stockley waived a jury trial), and the acquittal brought with it weeks of unrest, vandalism, and multiple arrests of protesters.
On Wednesday, Stockley filed suit against Joyce and Lt. Kirk Deeken, the former internal affairs investigator who testified before the grand jury in support of the indictment:
The suit filed Wednesday claims defamation and malicious prosecution, and says they misrepresented and intentionally disregarded evidence in bringing him to trial.
Stockley says he never should have been charged. His lawsuit, filed in federal court, alleges former Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce lied to a judge to secure Stockley’s arrest and when she claimed “new evidence” had surfaced from the shooting, which she said led her to file charges against him in 2016.
“I don’t want to (file this lawsuit); I sort of have to,” Stockley, who now lives in Texas, told the Post-Dispatch recently. “Their actions recklessly keyed up the city for riots. It’s more than just the suffering of me and my family. If an injustice like this is allowed, it threatens justice everywhere and it can happen to anyone.”
While the broad immunity generally afforded prosecutors makes it unclear as to whether the claim against Joyce can succeed, there are contradictions in the evidence and testimony which raise serious questions.
In announcing Stockley’s arrest two years ago, Joyce told the Post-Dispatch she had not previously seen the in-car camera footage of the shooting and that DNA evidence that was not previously available factored in her decision to charge Stockley.
In the lawsuit, Stockley’s attorneys note that Deeken testified during pretrial proceedings that Joyce was given all of the evidence three years earlier. Isom, the former police chief, also said Joyce had the evidence years earlier.
Stockley’s attorneys allege that prosecutors deliberately left out facts, including Smith’s criminal history and the alleged drug deal followed by a high-speed chase that preceded the shooting, that should have been presented to the judge weighing whether to arrest Stockley.
More details regarding the shooting itself and the discrepancies in the evidence can be found here. What remains to be seen is whether the civil suit will succeed and whether, in doing so, it will reopen not-so-old wounds. Just last night, I walked past the Rocket Fizz Soda Pop & Candy Shop, one of several businesses in the Delmar Loop impacted by last fall’s protests.
For his part, Stockley still says he “has ‘faith’ in the judicial system. ‘Because in the end,’ he said of his acquittal, ‘it worked.'”
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