On Friday, a Missouri judge found former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley not guilty of first-degree murder in the shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith. Dashcam video evidence and witness testimony suggest Stockley maliciously shot the 24-year-old unarmed black man at close range, following a high-speed chase. Prosecutors also presented evidence suggesting the officer planted a handgun in Smith’s vehicle — Stockley testified that he believed the man was reaching for a weapon and that his use of force was self-defense. Investigators found only the officer’s DNA on the handgun.
After a bench trial, which requires a judge to rule in place of a jury, Missouri Circuit Court Judge Timothy Wilson seemed to accept Stockley’s assertion that he acted in self-defense. In his written verdict, Wilson said, “an urban heroin dealer (Smith) not in possession of a firearm would be an anomaly.”
Acquittals, non-indictments and long waits: These outcomes are realities for a near-countless number of families who have lost loved ones to questionable and excessive uses of force by police in recent years.
Not even the rise of the Movement for Black Lives, a coalition of activist groups associated with the BLM movement, which grew out of a not guilty verdict for George Zimmerman in the death Trayvon Martin, seems to have rapt the hearts and minds of district attorneys, judges and jurors who decline to press charges or choose to vote not guilty.
To be clear, BLM activists have never set an expectation that guilty verdicts would be a measure of the movement’s effectiveness. In August 2016, the M4BL released “A Vision for Black Lives,” its policy platform that called for radical and transformational changes in the criminal justice system and divestment from policing.
But Friday’s verdict in St. Louis caused some to question whether protests and policy papers have altered the status quo at all. The movement needs more buy-in from people who aren’t typically impacted by excessive policing, Larry Fellows III, a St. Louis native and participant in the Ferguson Uprising, said in a phone interview on Friday.
“At this point, and I hate to be pessimistic in cases like this, it is now proven,” Fellows said. “This [injustice] is going to be continuous. This only changes when those people who aren’t affected show up. Growing up in St. Louis, there’s a bubble effect where unaffected people don’t know what’s going on or they don’t care.”
For the families closest to these cases, it’s been one demoralizing defeat after another. Here are 13 additional and recent cases that show how often officers are let off the hook:
Not guilty verdicts or mistrials
Betty Shelby, a former Tulsa, Oklahoma, police officer who killed Terence Crutcher in 2016, was acquitted in July 2017.
Ray Tensing, a former University of Cincinnati police officer who killed Samuel DuBose in 2015, was let go after a second mistrial in June 2017.
Dominique Heaggan-Brown, a Milwaukee police officer who killed a fleeing black man in 2016, was acquitted in June 2017.
Jeronimo Yanez, a former St. Anthony, Minnesota, officer who killed Philando Castile in 2016, was acquitted in June 2017.
Baltimore police officers Edward Nero, Caesar Goodson and Brian Rice, who were charged after the in-custody injury and resulting death of Freddie Gray in 2015, were found not guilty in separate bench trials, on charges that ranged from second-degree depraved heart murder to official misconduct in 2016. A mistrial was declared in officer William Porter’s December 2015 trial. Charges were later dropped against Porter, Sgt. Alicia White and Officer Garrett Miller.
Michael Brelo, a former officer in Cleveland who killed Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams in 2012, was acquitted in a bench trial May 2015.
Howie Lake and Blane Salamoni, the Baton Rouge, Louisiana, police officers involved in the shooting death of Alton Sterling in 2016, were not charged.
Brentley Vinson, the Charlotte, North Carolina, police officer who officials said shot and killed Keith Lamont Scott in 2016, was not charged in the man’s death.
Bryan Mason, the Columbus, Ohio, police officer who shot and killed 13-year-old Tyre King in 2016, was not charged in the boy’s death.
Matt Kenny, the Madison, Wisconsin, police officer who shot and killed Tony Robinson in 2015, was not charged.
Darren Wilson, the former Ferguson, Missouri, police officer who shot and killed Mike Brown in 2014, was not charged with the unarmed teen’s death.
Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback, the Cleveland, Ohio, police officers involved in the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in 2014, were not charged.
Daniel Pantaleo, the New York City police officer who held Eric Garner in a chokehold before his death in 2014, was not charged.
If you’re wondering why this keeps happening, watch Aaron L. Morrison’s video below: