Back in December of 2011, former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley was involved in a deadly force encounter in which a suspect by the name of Anthony Lamar Smith was killed following a high speed chase. Due to the circumstances of the shooting, it was eventually decided that Stockley would stand trial for murder. Stockley opted for a bench trial rather than having a jury seated and that procedure took place a few weeks ago. The judge has still not returned his verdict.

While everyone waits to find out the decision, a group of clergy from the St. Louis area got together and delivered a rather chilling public message to the judge. Despite being men and women of the cloth, they essentially declared that if the former officer wasn’t found guilty there would be blood in the streets and that blood would be on the judge’s hands. (Associated Press)

A group of clergy warned a judge about the potential for unrest if he acquits a former St. Louis police officer in the 2011 killing of a black man following a high-speed chase.

About 25 St. Louis clergy members gathered Friday outside the courthouse, where the Rev. Clinton Stancil read their letter to the judge weighing the case against Jason Stockley, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Stancil said the group doesn’t condone violence, but it believes there will protests if Stockley, 36, isn’t convicted of first-degree murder in the killing of 24-year-old Anthony Lamar Smith.

“Any decision rendered by you other than a guilty verdict will make you liable for any ensuing unrest or acts of aggression,” the group wrote to Judge Timothy Wilson. “In biblical terms, ‘the blood will be on your hands.'”

This is, quite frankly, stunning. It’s nice for the Reverend to say that they “don’t condone violence.” Unfortunately the sentence didn’t stop there. Just as a life coach style tip for Reverend Stancil, when you utter the sentence, “we don’t condone violence” you don’t follow it with a, “but…

This letter was an obvious threat to the judge. That would be bad enough coming from a group of community activists, but this was written by the community’s spiritual leaders. Are they not supposed to be out there attempting to suppress violence in any form rather than excusing it in advance? Because that’s what this letter boils down to. It’s a get out of jail free card delivered from the pulpit for anyone who wants to kick off round two of the Michael Brown riots.

I have no idea how the judge is going to rule on this one to be honest. If you take the story of Stockley and his partner at face value it was a supportable shooting, but questions have been raised which deserved a fair hearing. Also, Stockley did himself no favors with some of his behavior during the incident where Smith was killed.

You can read a thorough summary of the events from the Riverfront Times here, but a couple of key items stand out. After witnessing a drug deal taking place in a restaurant parking lot, the officers attempted to apprehend Smith on the spot. Smith jumped into his car, at which point Stockley’s partner called out that he’d seen a gun in Smith’s hand. Stockley reported also seeing the gun while looking in through the passenger side of Smith’s vehicle. Smith rammed the police vehicle, nearly running over the officer, and drove off after Stockley fired a few rounds at him. Then the high speed pursuit began.

This is where the story began to turn sour in the minds of the prosecutors. The dash cam in the officers’ patrol vehicle seems to clearly record Stockley saying, “I’m going to kill this this mother****er, don’t you know it.” While he claims to have no memory of saying it, Stockley admitted the tape sounded like him saying it. He also testified that if he did say it, he didn’t mean it literally, but that was probably enough to give the District Attorney pause.

After the officers rammed Smith’s car and got him to stop, the dash cam shows Stockley approaching the suspect’s vehicle and fifteen seconds later firing five shots into the driver’s side window. Stockley claims that he saw Smith searching around on the seat for the gun and he felt that Smith had located it and was about to fire. Unfortunately the tape doesn’t answer that question either way. There’s also a question of why Stockley removed his rubber gloves before searching the car for evidence and the fact that only his DNA was found on the gun allegedly belonging to Smith. (The prosecution is claiming that Stockley planted the gun in the car.)

It’s one of those close calls in a tense moment where we generally see the court giving the benefit of the doubt to the police. And that may happen here as well. If it does, given the history of the city in question, we should probably be prepared for some riots. But one would think that the faith leaders in the community would be working to stop that from happening, not fomenting it in advance.