EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been corrected to reflect that court documents say Jason Stockley's DNA was on a gun found with the man he killed.
ST. LOUIS • A federal judge ordered Monday that records remain sealed in a shooting that led to a first-degree murder charge against former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley.
Included are police car dashboard video, audio recordings and reports related to Stockley’s on-duty killing of Anthony Lamar Smith in December 2011.
The evidence had been shared with lawyers involved in a wrongful-death suit on behalf of Smith’s daughter, then 1, which resulted in a $900,000 settlement by the Board of Police Commissioners in 2013.
The Post-Dispatch filed a motion in May asking U.S. District Judge Jean Hamilton to lift a protective order that applied only to parties of that suit. Days after the newspaper’s request, Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce filed a first-degree murder charge against Stockley.
None of the parties under the protective order objected to it being lifted, but Hamilton asked Joyce, whose office then intervened.
Her office told the judge, in part, that Stockley’s attorneys could use the release as grounds to seek a change of venue due to pre-trial publicity, and jeopardize both sides’ right to a fair trial.
Hamilton did not state a reason for Monday’s decision.
Joyce said in a statement, “My goal is to hold Mr. Stockley accountable for his actions, and the release of this video prior to trial could hinder our efforts to keep this matter before a city jury.”
Adam Goodman, deputy managing editor at the Post-Dispatch, said he was disappointed. “We believe it is simply wrong to continue to prevent disclosure of the police dashcam video and other documentary evidence that helped bring about a secret, taxpayer-funded settlement in 2013,” he said.
“It has been nearly five years since this shooting occurred with no one charged. We note that the arrest and charges came only weeks after we sought more information through a public-records request with police and only days after we sought to have this protective order lifted.”
Moreover, Goodman pointed out that in the last two years, the St. Louis police and other departments have promised to publicly release video and other evidence from police shootings even during their ongoing investigations.
“Other government and court officials here and around the nation have now recognized that a commitment to openness and transparency does not undermine justice, but strengthens it,” he said.
Al Watkins, who represented Smith’s daughter in the wrongful-death case, said he believed Monday’s decision erodes the public’s trust.
It comes on the eve of the two-year anniversary of the Ferguson police shooting that highlighted the need for increased transparency from public officials, Watkins noted.
“The city had a chance, an opportunity, to be on the cutting edge of the healing process and instead it’s choosing to be a festering, pus-filled scab,” Watkins said.
The FBI conducted a nearly year-long investigation into the shooting when it happened, and U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan’s office declined to prosecute. Stockley had said he fired in self-defense. In court documents, prosecutors said Stockley had told his partner during a chase that he intended to kill Smith, and that the officer’s DNA was on a gun found with Smith’s body.