St. Louis, MO – A former St. Louis police officer who was maliciously prosecuted for the on-duty shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith has filed a lawsuit against the prosecutor and internal investigator who compiled the case against him.
“It’s more than just the suffering of me and my family,” he added. “If an injustice like this is allowed, it threatens justice everywhere and it can happen to anyone.”
The 45-page lawsuit, which was filed on Wednesday, alleged that former Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce and St. Louis Police Sergeant Kirk Deeken committed perjury, “deliberately left out” material facts about the case, and presented information that was “deliberately misleading” in order bring charges against Officer Stockley.
The lawsuit noted that each false statement Joyce and Sgt. Deeken made was subject to felony prosecution and that the pair had “knowingly presented a series of lies” to the court on more than one occasion.
Stockley said he believed Joyce filed charges against him in an effort to preserve her legacy and to pacify protesters, after she declined to file charges against officers in other unrelated high-profile shooting cases, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
“There was political pressure and someone had to be sacrificed,” Stockley’s attorney, Dan Finney, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “This was an injustice for Jason Stockley and for the black community.”
Joyce responded to the lawsuit on Wednesday and labeled it a “frivolous” attempt to “discourage prosecutors from considering charges against police officers for violating the law.”
“While this lawsuit may achieve a goal of headlines today, I have confidence that this will be resolved in my favor in a court of law,” Joyce added.
Officer Stockley was accused of having planted a handgun in Smith’s vehicle after he allegedly executed the drug dealer with a “kill shot,” Sgt. Deeken and Joyce said during the trial.
The incident occurred on Dec. 20, 2011, after Officer Stockley and his partner observed Smith participating in a drug transaction in a restaurant parking lot.
When the officers pulled up behind Smith, he intentionally rammed his vehicle into Officer Stockley’s patrol car, forcing the vehicle to collide with another car, the Belleville News-Democrat reported.
Before Smith and his accomplice fled the scene, officers noticed a gun on the passenger seat of the suspect’s vehicle. Smith then led police on a three-minute, high-speed pursuit on wet roadways, and at times drove into oncoming traffic.
Smith ultimately crashed his vehicle, and officers rushed towards him.
Despite the officers’ commands to show his hands, Smith continued to reach for a weapon, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
During the struggle that ensued, Officer Stockley fired his duty weapon, killing Smith.
Investigators later recovered a handgun and a bag of heroin from inside Smith’s vehicle.
Federal and state prosecutors initially declined to charge Officer Stockley in relation to the shooting, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Attorney Albert Watkins filed a civil lawsuit against the St. Louis Police Department on behalf of Smith’s family, which settled for $900,000 in 2013.
Following the settlement, Officer Stockley was indicted for first-degree murder, after Joyce claimed to have discovered new evidence in the case.
Sgt. Deeken testified in a sworn deposition in May that he knew of no new evidence given to Joyce, who has since retired. Joyce claimed that the Internal Affairs Division presented her with new evidence which allowed her to file the charges after her own office and federal prosecutors had previously declined to charge them.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Joyce never identified the new evidence. And Joyce’s successor, Kim Gardner, said she could not say what it was.
Joyce alleged that Officer Stockley had planted the .38 caliber Taurus revolver that Sgt. Deeken found inside Smith’s vehicle, because the officer’s DNA was found on it.
Sgt. Deeken told the grand jury that a DNA expert told him that Officer Stockley’s DNA on the gun came from his blood, and that Officer Stockley had no open wounds after the shooting. This suggested the blood had to have been left on weapon the before the shooting, which would be evidence that the gun was planted.
At trial, the same DNA expert said he didn’t tell Sgt. Deeken that Officer Stockley’s blood was on the gun. The DNA expert said that the city’s crime lab could only confirm the presence of DNA, but not its biological source. Officer Stockley had recovered the gun from Smith’s vehicle and unloaded it, and his DNA could have been easily transferred while touching it.
During Sgt. Deeken’s deposition in May, he said he couldn’t remember why he told the grand jury that Officer Stockley’s blood was on the gun.
At trial, Joyce used dashcam footage that showed Officer Stockley rifling through a duffle bag in his back seat after Smith had been shot, and alleged that he had retrieved the supposedly-planted weapon at that time.
Officer Stockley has consistently denied allegations that he planted the weapon, and said that the item he pulled from his duffel bag was actually a package of clotting agent to help stop Smith’s bleeding, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
When the dashcam video was played back in slow-motion, the top of the clotting packet could be seen in the officer’s hand, Stockley argued in his lawsuit.
Sgt. Deeken also repeatedly told grand jurors that Officer Stockley executed Smith by firing a fifth shot at close range about 22 seconds after he had fired four other shots, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
The prosecutors used Sgt. Deeken’s theory during the murder trial, and called Officer Stockley’s fifth bullet a “kill shot.” The prosecutors described how a puff of gun smoke that was seen on the police SUV’s dash camera was proof of that fifth “kill shot.”
But a cellphone video clip taken by a nearby business owner showed Officer Elijah Simpson was there when the fifth shot was allegedly fired. Officer Simpson told the grand jury and at trial that he didn’t see or hear any additional shots.
According to the lawsuit, Sgt. Deeken told grand jurors that Smith’s OnStar feature began recording the sounds from inside Smith’s vehicle at the time of the crash, and that the fifth shot was audible on the recording.
But during the trial, prosecutors never mentioned the recording, which actually began well after Smith had been shot and did not contain the sounds Sgt. Deeken claimed were there, the lawsuit alleged.
Sgt. Deeken later claimed that the recording was “poor quality” and suggested that prosecutors not use it during trial, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
In all, there was no evidence of a “kill shot” besides the “smoke,” which Judge Wilson concluded was nothing more than an exhaled breath in cold air.
Officer Stockley’s attorney, Neil Bruntrager, said that Sgt. Deeken’s testimony was crucial.
“Without Deeken’s testimony, I believe they never would have got an indictment,” Bruntrager said. The indictment gave the case, “integrity that it didn’t deserve. [Prosecutors] gave people an expectation that there was something here when, in fact, there wasn’t.”
“You have in the prosecutor a position of trust when you have a grand jury,” Bruntrager said. “And when you put a witness like Deeken on, you are saying to them, ‘This is believable,’ and they take your lead and they ultimately got an indictment, and I think that’s a violation of the public trust.”
Judge Timothy Wilson acquitted Officer Stockley on Sep. 15, 2017.
Stockley resigned from the St. Louis Police Department in 2013, after he was suspended for 30 days for carrying his personally-owned AK-47 rifle while on duty, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Despite his acquittal, Stockley, who now lives in Texas, said that the stigma associated with his indictment has made it difficult for him to find employment.
“Anyone who does a background check and sees that I’ve been charged with murder isn’t going to hire me,” he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Stockley’s lawsuit requests a judgement of at least $75,000.