For ex-St. Louis cop Jason Stockley, beating a murder charge wasn't enough. Eight months after a judge handed down a "not guilty" verdict, Stockley is now suing former Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce, who initially charged him, as well as the internal affairs investigator who helped convince a grand jury that Stockley should face justice for the death of Anthony Lamar Smith.
But Stockley's lawsuit doesn't just reopen the set of questions that have long swirled around the investigation into the 2011 fatal shooting of Smith. It casts protesters objecting to police violence as the villain driving his prosecution.
Rather than portraying himself as a cop who took reckless action (including carrying around an unauthorized AK-47) and was lucky to get off the hook, Stockley contends in his suit that Joyce's decision to charge him stemmed from her fear of protesters.
It was a fear sparked by the response to her decision not to charge St. Louis cop Jason Flanery for fatally shooting VonDerrit Myers Jr. in 2014, the lawsuit argues. The day after that decision, protesters showed up to Joyce's house.
"Joyce was alarmed, and visibly shaken and intimidated by the protesters," the suit claims, later attesting that Joyce had "feared for her life" and thanked police officials for responding to the demonstration. (It's worth noting that those same officers would later fail to show up to the protesters' trials, leading to charges against them being dropped.)
The lawsuit also zeroes in on a meeting Joyce held with two activists — Anthony Shahid and Phillip Duvall — in early May 2016, about a week before Stockley was arrested outside his home in Houston, Texas. Shahid and Duvall had led press conferences and a handful of protests demanding Stockley be charged.
According to accounts of the meeting, Joyce asked the activists to hold off on further action, as she was worried it would give Stockley's lawyers ammunition for changing venue.
The lawsuit cites an RFT cover story, which first reported on the meeting's existence, but then extrapolates that the meeting was surely proof that Joyce "colluded with and sought to appease community agitators and protest leaders... in order to to avoid the recurrence of demonstrations at times and places and in manners she found terrifying."
This line of psychoanalysis — that Joyce only charged Stockley to stave off protests — isn't new. It was a popular conspiracy theory that swirled before the trial, a theory that picked up additional steam after the case passed to Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner. At trial, it became clear that the prosecution's case lacked critical physical evidence to prove Stockley acted with premeditated bloodthirstiness when he approached the driver's side window of Smith's car and shot the 24-year-old five times.
But was that poor execution on the part of Gardner's office, or the sign of a bad case that should have never gone to trial? In the lawsuit, the shortcomings in the prosecution's case are arranged to implicate Joyce and the internal affairs officer, Kirk Deeken, alleging they knowingly fabricated a weak case against an innocent man.
The lawsuit raises some familiar questions: Why did the case languish for years before Joyce chose to charge Stockley in May 2016? Why did so many agencies, federal and local, pass on prosecution beforehand? Why did prosecutors confidently allege that DNA evidence proved Stockley planted a gun on Smith, but then called no expert witnesses at trial to support that claim? If there was really a "kill shot," why couldn't prosecutors find a single witnesses to testify they'd heard it? Beyond recovered cell phone footage of the shooting's aftermath, was there more "new evidence" that tipped Joyce's hand, or just more of the same?
In fact, most of the issues raised by in the lawsuit were highlighted in the verdict issued by St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Timothy Wilson, who described his doubts about the case in a 30-page ruling issued on September 15.
Wilson, though, didn't weave theories about Joyce's motivations. And for her part, Joyce told RFT that it was the initial police investigation that deserved blame for the case's delayed prosecution. (Police officials have insisted that Joyce had all the evidence in 2012, and that any delay was the fault of her office.)
Stockley's lawsuit, filed by Dan Finney of Clayton, casts a wide net. And even if everything he alleges could be proven, prosecutors and police officers can claim "qualified immunity" to protect themselves from civil lawsuits — something Stockley should know.
As for Joyce, the retired Circuit Attorney called the lawsuit "frivolous" in a statement released Wednesday to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and charged that Stockley's aim was to "discourage prosecutors from considering charges against police officers for violating the law."
Stockley has already spent years under legal pressure from Smith's relatives — Smith's daughter was awarded a $900,000 civil settlement in 2013, and that case since been reopened under accusations that lawyers for the city withheld evidence from Smith's family. Still, he seems intent on reopening old wounds — and now he's turned the tables, potentially costing the city that once employed him even more money.
Joyce and Deeken's pursuit of the murder charge "recklessly keyed up the city for riots," Stockley told the Post-Dispatch, adding, "It’s more than just the suffering of me and my family. If an injustice like this is allowed, it threatens justice everywhere and it can happen to anyone."
Stockley's choice of words is a notable, and somewhat curious, bowdlerization of a well-known protest slogan, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." One wonders how the man who first said those words, Martin Luther King Jr., would feel about hearing it from Stockley today.
Jason Stockley Lawsuit by Danny Wicentowski on Scribd
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