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Jason Stockley found not guilty in shooting death of motorist

The Rev. Chris Collins, S.J. (center) prays with other clergy in the middle of Tucker and Market following the not guilty verdict in the killing of Anthony Lamar Smith by former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com

The not guilty verdict in the trial of former St. Louis Police Officer Jason Stockley brought a flurry of response from local leaders including St. Louis interim Police Chief Lawrence M. O’Toole, who said his department is committed "to ensuring every citizen’s First Amendment rights.

"However, we are equally committed to enforcing the laws of our city while upholding our core values of service, integrity, leadership and fair treatment to all," O'Toole said. "We will continue our mission to strengthen community relationships and implement meaningful reforms that build trust among the citizens we serve."

"While we know emotions are running high, our number one priority is protecting and serving our citizens," O'Toole said. "We ask that citizens who choose to demonstrate, do so peacefully."

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson said she was "appalled" at what happened to Smith and "sobered by this outcome. Frustration, anger, hurt, pain, hope and love all intermingle. I encourage St. Louisans to show each other compassion, to recognize that we all have different experiences and backgrounds and that we all come to this with real feelings and experiences.

"We are all St. Louisans," she said. "We rise and fall together."

U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay, who represents St. Louis city, said "justice has been cruelly denied for Anthony Lamar Smith's family and this community. I stand in total solidarity with them in expressing my absolute outrage at this verdict."

Clay said that "once again, another young black man dies at the hands of a police officer, with no consequences." He said the community needs to respect good policing but "a few bad apples denigrate the entire force and place officers and citizens unnecessarily in harm's way when they meet. We must demand changes in local law enforcement to ensure all lives are respected and honored. There is no coming back after a life is taken, only sadness."

Clay said "it is simply an honest statement of the ugly and very painful truth that in America, in 2017, some lives are still worth more than others."

State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, a Democrat, tweeted that the verdict "lays bare the integrity and accountability missing from our justice system." She said she stands with "peaceful protesters, clergy and activists whose voices rise up, demanding justice for us all."

Gov. Eric Greitens said state officials have been in contact with city and St. Louis County officials, and stand ready to help.

"I'm committed to protecting everyone's constitutional right to protest peacefully, while also protecting people's lives, homes, and communities," Greitens said in a statement. "For anyone who protests, please do so peacefully.”

He also said: "We know this verdict causes pain for many people."

In a statement, Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner said she was disappointed with Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson's decision.

"While officer-involved shooting cases are extremely difficult to prevail in court, I believe we offered sufficient evidence that proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Jason Stockley intended to kill Mr. Smith. However, in this case it was the judge’s duty to evaluate the evidence and deliver his findings. That’s how our system works. I’m very proud of my team’s effort and commitment to the pursuit of justice on behalf of Mr. Smith’s family and the people of St. Louis.”

Gardner said she is calling for an independent investigative body that works under the supervision of the circuit attorney that is solely dedicated to investigating the 25 cases that are under review by her office.

Al Watkins, lawyer for Smith’s fiancée and daughter, talked with reporters outside the courthouse shortly after the verdict was made public.

“I find the ultimate disposition, the ruling, to be appalling, appallingly contrary to all of the evidence that was present, the evidence introduced into the record as an official entry into this case,” he said. “Quite frankly, the family clearly is sorely disappointed. The community will be sorely disappointed and all that we can hope for and pray for is that there is peace in the days to come rather than what we unfortunately fear may occur.”

Lewis Reed, president of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, said the judge's decision is one "I personally deeply disagree with. I can't imagine, considering the evidence made public, that Stockely was not found to be guilty of committing  a crime. The community has the right to be frustrated by the decision and should exercise their right to protest this decision. But, we cannot resort to actions that will set us back further as a community."

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said the events in Ferguson "shook our region to its core and forced us to face some tough realities. But since then, our law enforcement and the families and businesses they serve have begun talking and hearing each other. We can't let today's decision send us back to our respective corners. I know if we continue to have hard conversations in a candid, peaceful, and constructive way, we can make the kind of progress everyone in our state craves and deserves."

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., called the verdict "a difficult day" for the Smith family "and for all St. Louisans who sought a different outcome in this case. The response to this verdict will have a lasting impact not just on the community, but the country."

Like other politicians, Blunt stressed that the right to protest is a protected right.

"However, if this verdict is met with violence and destruction, it will do nothing but reignite the fear and anger that law enforcement and community leaders have worked tirelessly to address since Ferguson," Blunt said. "If it is met with a renewed commitment to continuing the work that is needed to rebuild trust between law enforcement and those they serve, it will show the world how we, as Americans, move forward.”

A joint statement from ArchCity Defenders, St. Louis Action Council and Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment criticized Judge Wilson's decision.

"Grieving families who lose loved ones at the hands of police officers all too often seek justice from a legal system that instead protects their loved ones' killers," the statement said. "We  saw this play out today in Jason Stockley's case. This devastating verdict reinforces the message that law enforcement can use fatal, excessive force against communities of color and turn to the courts for protection.

"Three years after the Ferguson uprising, St. Louis finds itself in the same place. The continued disregard for black life and the failure to hold police accountable creates heightened tensions between police and the community."

City Treasurer Tishaura Jones said Wilson's "decision leaves me with more questions than answers. Officer Jason Stockley yelled he would kill Smith on a recording less than a minute before ultimately doing so, yet he walks out of court today a free man."

Jones said she does not advocate violence in response. "At the same time, the ultimate measure of how our community deals with this verdict is not how quickly we are able to get back to business, but whether we implement policy change addressing injustice, racism, and inequality. We can no longer prioritize short-term order over long-term justice." 

St. Louis Archbishop Robert J. Carlson said that if the region wants peace and justice, "we must come together as a community through prayer, mutual understanding, and forgiveness. While acknowledging the hurt and anger, we must not fuel the fires of hatred and division. We must ask God for peace in our own hearts and share it with those around us. Violence does not lead to peace and justice – they are opposing forces and cannot coexist. I implore each of you to choose peace! Reject the false and empty hope that violence will solve problems. Violence only creates more violence. We must work together for a better, stronger, safer community, one founded upon respect for each other, and one in which we see our neighbor as another self."

Mark S. Wrighton, chancellor of Washington University said he was "struggling with the outcome" and "what it means for our region."

"It is my hope that the emotional jolt from today’s decision brings peaceful and constructive movement forward," Wrighton said. "And I hope for demonstrable, meaningful action in addressing the deep-seated issues, disparity and social inequity in our region. We are as determined as ever to work toward that goal."

Doug Moore is a former reporter for the P-D. Currently, policy director for St. Louis County Council.