Judge dismisses suit filed by acquitted St. Louis officer

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A judge has dismissed a defamation lawsuit filed by a white former St. Louis police officer whose acquittal in the death of a black suspect set off weeks of protests.

The former officer, Jason Stockley, accused investigators of intentionally disregarding and lying about evidence when he was charged with murder in the 2011 shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith. Stockley was charged nearly five years later and filed the lawsuit after his 2017 acquittal.

U.S. District Judge Charles Shaw dismissed the civil case Thursday in a 58-page ruling that largely focused on technicalities and language in the lawsuit, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported .

The judge said two people named in the suit — former St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce and former St. Louis police internal affairs investigator Kirk Deeken — had either absolute or qualified immunity from being sued because of their positions. Shaw also ruled that Stockley's lawsuit failed to state claims "upon which relief can be granted."

Stockley's attorney, Daniel Finney Jr., said they aren't giving up on the case.

"Immunity protecting bad acts is an issue in these kinds of cases," Finney said. "We appreciate the efforts of Judge Shaw but I'm sure it won't be the first time he has heard this: We disagree and will be appealing."

Lawyers for Joyce and the city could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday night.

Stockley was charged with first-degree murder in 2016, nearly five years after Smith's death. Joyce's office filed the charge, though the case was prosecuted under Kim Gardner, who was elected that November after Joyce declined to seek re-election. Gardner was not named in the suit.

Stockley said he and his partner spotted the 24-year-old Smith acting suspiciously at a fast food parking lot in 2011, and when they tried to question him, Smith drove off and nearly struck the officers. After a chase, Stockley fatally shot Smith.

Stockley testified that the shooting was in self-defense because Smith was reaching toward a gun in his car. Prosecutors accused Stockley of planting the gun.

Stockley was found not guilty by a judge in September 2017, setting off protests that led to hundreds of arrests and sometimes turned violent.

In his lawsuit, Stockley alleged that some evidence had been misrepresented and other evidence that could have benefited his case was disregarded. The suit alleged Joyce felt pressured to file charges after a rash of other officer-involved shootings of black suspects.

Stockley also accused Joyce of lying to a judge when she said there was new evidence that led to the charges being filed nearly five years after Smith's death. The suit also accused Deeken, the internal affairs investigator, of making false claims to grand jurors.

In his dismissal of the defamation allegations, Shaw said Stockley's legal team failed to prove that Joyce's statements deprived Stockley of any "liberty or property interest."

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Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com