September 7, 2017 / 5:21 PM / 3 months ago

Missouri governor on alert for unrest ahead of St. Louis verdict

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Missouri Governor Eric Greitens has said he is prepared to call out the National Guard if a pending verdict in the murder trial of a former police officer charged with killing a black man sparks protests that turn violent.

FILE PHOTO: Jason Stockley, an ex-St.Louis police officer pictured in this police handout photo obtained by Reuters August 10, 2017. Harris County Sheriff's Office/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

Judge Timothy Wilson has not announced the timing of a verdict in the bench trial of Jason Stockley, who pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the 2011 death of Anthony Smith following a car chase, but St. Louis has been on edge for days.

“We are going to protect people’s constitutional rights and we are going to protect public safety,” Greitens told reporters on Wednesday. “We will use every tool at our disposal in order to do that. It absolutely includes the possibility of working with the National Guard.”

On Tuesday, St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson said anxiety and worry gripped a city where residents remember the 2014 shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson, Missouri, which sparked months of protests.

Greitens has criticized former Governor Jay Nixon for failing to respond with sufficient force to control the 2014 protests in Ferguson.

Activists promised major demonstrations if Stockley is acquitted, and city officials erected barricades outside courthouses and the police station.

Some businesses warned employees to stock plywood to potentially board their windows against looters, the St. Louis Business Journal reported on Tuesday.

Stockley, 36, who is white, was arrested at his Houston, Texas, home in May 2016 amid heightened scrutiny of police use of excessive force after killings of numerous unarmed black people triggered protests across the United States in recent years.

Stockley left the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department in 2013. Additional evidence led to his arrest last year, prosecutors said.

On Dec. 20, 2011, authorities say Smith, 24, tried to flee from Stockley. During a pursuit, Stockley could be heard saying on an internal police car video that he was going to kill Smith, prosecutors said.

Smith’s car began slowing to a stop when Stockley directed his partner to smash into Smith’s vehicle, court documents said. The driver slammed the police vehicle into Smith’s car and then Stockley approached the driver’s side and shot Smith five times.

Stockley shot in self-defense, his lawyers said. But prosecutors said the only gun recovered from the scene had only Stockley’s DNA on it. Stockley waived his right to a jury trial, allowing the judge to decide the case.

Reporting by Chris Kenning; Editing by James Dalgleish

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