ST. LOUIS — Hundreds of protesters marched in a third consecutive day of demonstrations Sunday following the acquittal of a white former city police officer in the death of a black motorist. The protests turned violent later Sunday evening, witnesses reported, with police in protective gear making several arrests.
The series of protests began Friday after a judge cleared the one-time St. Louis Metropolitan police officer, Jason Stockley, of first-degree murder charges in the 2011 shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith, 24, during a high-speed car chase.
Stockley shot Smith after Smith fled from Stockley and his partner, who were trying to arrest him for a suspected drug deal.
Judge Timothy Wilson ruled Stockley acted in self-defense. His decision prompted demonstrations that began on Friday and left 11 police officers injured. Authorities made 33 arrests.
Sunday's peaceful protests, which featured about 1,000 people marching from the St. Louis Police Department to the city's Midtown area, were followed by more violent outbursts late Sunday, witnesses reported.
Protesters said the crowd turned violent after a vehicle believed to be an unmarked police car backed quickly through part of the crowd. No one appeared to be hit or injured, but protesters were angry about it, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Police said protesters threw bottles at officers after the incident, which was captured on videotape from several angles by bystanders.
Later Sunday, protesters smashed store windows and concrete planters along city sidewalks; police made a handful of arrests and shot rubber bullets to disperse the protesters.
The police force tweeted Sunday night that protesters had caused "significant property damage" downtown. Just before 9 p.m. CT, police said they had given an order for the crowd to "disperse immediately," adding, "This is no longer a peaceful protest."
On Saturday night and early Sunday, St. Louis County police said they arrested nine people in suburban University City, home to Washington University.
Some stores reopened Sunday despite the damage, with artists trying to enhance the appearance of plywood covering broken windows.
The U.S. Department of Justice on Sunday also revealed that there was insufficient evidence to pursue a separate federal civil rights prosecution of Stockley. The department withheld its conclusion while Stockley's murder trial was underway in St. Louis, the Post-Dispatch reported Sunday.
Justice department spokeswoman Lauren Ehrsam told the Post-Dispatch that the civil rights division finished its own internal review of the case in September 2016 and concluded that the evidence did not support a prosecution under federal criminal civil rights statutes. But it made no formal statement at the time "to avoid having any impact" on the pending state criminal case.
The University City Police Department said 23 businesses and five police vehicles were damaged Saturday night when protesters hurled rocks, bricks, water bottles filled with paint thinner or gasoline, and balloons filled with red liquid.
"UCity PD requested assistance Saturday after peaceful protest turned violent when debris was thrown at officers," county police tweeted early Sunday.
St. Louis Police Chief Lawrence O'Toole said the protests had been peaceful until after dark, when chaos ensued.
“Saturday night, some criminals decided to pick up rocks and break windows," Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens said in a statement. "They thought they’d get away with it. They were wrong. Our officers caught ‘em, cuffed ‘em, and threw ‘em in jail."
Judge Wilson's decision prompted demonstrations Friday that left 11 police officers injured.
On Saturday, demonstrators marched through a shopping mall. At about 9 p.m., organizers announced to the crowd that the protest was a success, citing zero arrests. The crowd dispersed shortly thereafter.
About an hour later, a smaller, separate crowd gathered. A police line formed once the tension between demonstrators and police grew. One person reportedly threw red paint on a shield held by a University City police officer.
A short time later, the St. Louis County and St. Louis Metropolitan police departments were called in to assist the University City police, according to a statement released by county police.
As protesters and police clashed, a window in the nearby Starbucks was broken. Several other businesses and cars were also vandalized as police moved in on the crowd. Trash can lids were thrown through storefront windows.
Friday's protests also were mostly peaceful until demonstrators spattered red paint on St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson’s home and broke a window, prompting riot police to lob tear gas to disperse the crowds.
Nine St. Louis officers, one State Highway Patrol trooper and one St. Louis County officer were hurt Friday night, according to the city police department. One city officer was hit with a brick. O'Toole said the injuries to St. Louis police officers include a possible broken jaw and a dislocated shoulder.
"Reports of bricks thrown at police. That's not protest. That's a crime," Greitens tweeted. "We stand behind our officers. This violence won't be tolerated."
During Stockley's trial, prosecutors said he had planted a gun in Smith’s car after the shooting — Stockley’s DNA was on the weapon but Smith’s wasn’t.
Dashcam video from Stockley’s police car captured him saying he was “going to kill this (expletive), don’t you know it.” Less than a minute later, he shot Smith five times.
Stockley’s lawyer dismissed the comment as “human emotions” uttered during a dangerous pursuit.
Wary of the protests that broke out in 2014 in nearby Ferguson, Mo., over the killing of Michael Brown by a police officer, authorities took precautions in St. Louis. Barricades were erected around police headquarters and the courthouse, among other sites, in anticipation of the verdict.
Clancy and Piper report for KSDK-TV in St. Louis; Bacon for USA TODAY in McLean, Va. Contributing: The Associated Press and Greg Toppo, USA TODAY.
Former officer's acquittal sparks St. Louis protests