Former cop's acquittal in fatal shooting ignites protests, 'frustration, anger, hurt'
A white former St. Louis police officer was acquitted on Friday in the 2011 shooting death of a black man while on duty.
Today’s acquittal of a white former St. Louis police officer who shot a black man to death in 2011 elicited outrage from several local officials, condemning the anxiously awaited bench verdict.
"This not guilty verdict of a police officer who violently killed a citizen is another slap in the face to the black community in St. Louis,” Missouri state Rep. Michael Butler said in a statement. “And a shot in the heart to the family of the victim,” he said of 24-year-old Anthony Lamar Smith.
“This system and all the politicians calling for peace are ignoring the pain this verdict causes our communities,” Butler added. “We will be non-violent but we will not settle on peace. No justice. No peace.”
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson offered a more measured response, though equally emotional.
"My thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Anthony Lamar Smith, our police, judge, prosecutor, our citizens who find no comfort or justice, and everyone involved in this difficult case," she said in a statement.
"I am appalled at what happened to Anthony Lamar Smith. I am sobered by this outcome. Frustration, anger, hurt, pain, hope and love all intermingle."
St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson found Jason Stockley, 36, not guilty of first-degree murder and armed criminal action when the then-police officer shot suspect Smith five times after a high-speed chase and crash Dec. 20, 2011.
Stockley and his partner at the time, Brian Bianchi, were trying to apprehend Smith for a suspected drug deal at a Church's Chicken restaurant, according to court documents.
Stockley was facing up to life in prison without parole had he been convicted of both charges.
Crowds of people gathered today near the courthouse in downtown St. Louis to protest the ruling. Police blocked streets nearby so demonstrators could march.
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, anticipating protests in response to the controversial ruling, released a statement saying he understood the verdict is painful for many St. Louisans.
"We know this verdict causes pain for many people," Greitens said. "I'm committed to protecting everyone's constitutional right to protest peacefull, while also protecting people's lives, homes and communities. For anyone who protests, please do so peacefully."
Stockley's defense attorneys argued that the then-officer acted "reasonably" in self-defense in killing a drug suspect he believed was reaching for a hidden gun.
Prosecutors alleged that Stockley planted a .38-caliber revolver in Smith's Buick after he shot him.
In his verdict, Judge Wilson wrote that the court "is simply not firmly convinced of [Stockley's] guilt."
And because prosecutors "failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that [Stockley's] use of deadly force was not justified in self-defense," Wilson wrote that he could not address lesser charges of homicide, including involuntary manslaughter.
ABC News' James Hill contributed to this report.