Published September 26, 2017
Attorneys for a white former St. Louis police officer accused of murder in the shooting death of a black man nearly six years ago rested their client's case Tuesday after he testified he saw the man with a handgun before the deadly gunfire and perceived him as an imminent threat.
Jason Stockley's testimony that he saw a firearm in Anthony Lamar Smith's hand before a chase that preceded the December 2011 gunfire that killed Smith counters prosecutors' claims that Stockley planted a gun in Smith's car after shooting him.
A judge will decide the case involving Stockley, who is charged with first-degree murder and armed criminal action. It was not immediately clear when attorneys for both sides would summarize their cases for the judge.
Stockley, 36, testified he and his partner witnessed what they thought was a drug transaction involving the 24-year-old Smith, who Stockley said then used his car to twice strike the police vehicle. Stockley said he saw Smith holding a silver revolver as the man sped away. After a three-mile chase that reached at least 87 mph through neighborhoods before Smith's car crashed, Stockley repeatedly shot Smith, believing Smith was reaching for a gun and was an "imminent threat" to his own life, that of his partner and St. Louis citizens.
"I was rattled, to say the least," the St. Louis Post-Dispatch quoted Stockley as testifying about his demeanor immediately after the shooting. "I just had to shoot someone. Whatever the normal human response to that would be, it's not a good one."
During cross examination, prosecutor Robert Steele focused on why Stockley violated departmental policy by carrying his personal AK-47 pistol while on duty and why Stockley — not the at least 10 other officers at the scene — searched Smith's car after the shooting. Stockley said he knew he was violating policy but that he recently had been on the scene of several homicides at which military-grade shell casings were found — and that "I valued the lives of my and the other officers more than the policy."
After Stockley and his partner rear-ended Smith's car, both officers got out before Stockley approached Smith's car. Stockley said he recalled lifting up the deployed driver's-side airbag and not seeing a gun but that Smith appeared to be reaching for something between the center console and the passenger seat.
Stockley testified that Smith's facial expression changed, marking "the moment where I believed the suspect retrieved the weapon that was in the car."
"I thought his gun might come up and shoot at me," Stockley said.
Stockley fired several shots into the car, killing Smith. Stockley returned to his police SUV and put his AK-47 back inside. Stockley testified that he want to Smith's car in search of the suspect's gun and found a revolver on the floor between the center console and passenger seat.
Police reports said Stockley's DNA — not Smith's — was on the .38-caliber revolver police said was found in Smith's car.
"The first time I ever touched that gun was inside the suspect's vehicle," Stockley testified, refuting claims that he had placed the gun in the car.