A federal appeals court Monday affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by former St. Louis Police Officer Jason Stockley against the prosecutor who charged him with murder in connection to an on-duty shooting and the internal affairs investigator who built the case against him.
Stockley filed the suit in June 2018, a few months after he was acquited of first-degree murder in connection to the 2011 fatal shooting of 24-year-old Anthony Lamar Smith. The bench trial's not-guilty verdict set off weeks or large protests across St. Louis.
But in Stockley's suit, he alleged defamation and malicious prosecution by former St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce and former St. Louis police internal affairs investigator Kirk Deeken. The suit also claimed the City of St. Louis violated his constitutional rights through its policies.
U.S. District Judge Charles Shaw dismissed the claims in February, and on Monday a panel of judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit agreed with the dismissal.
The judges found Joyce and Deeken were largely protected by qualified immunity, which shields public officials from federal liability unless they violate "clearly established" law.
The judges disagreed with Stockley's argument that Joyce's statements claiming she revisited his case years after the shooting based on "new evidence" were defamatory.
The statement "pales to the point of insignificance when compared to the prosecutor’s actions in submitting a complaint supported by probable cause to a judge, the judge’s issuance of a warrant, and the ensuing trial — actions for which the prosecutor is immune," Judge Bobby Shepherd wrote in the court's opinion.
Stockley's suit also alleged that Deeken made false claims about evidence to show probable cause for Stockley’s indictment.
The appeals court's opinion states probable cause would have likely been found regardless of any omissions or inaccuracies in Deeken's statements.
The panel also found that his actions did not meet the definition of "malicious prosecution" because there was likely probable cause for the charge.
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