Sept. 15 (UPI) -- A Judge acquitted former police officer Jason Stockley of first-degree murder charges on Friday, as St. Louis braced for potentially disruptive protests and demonstrations.
Stockley was exonerated of murder charges for the December 2011 death of 24-year-old Anthony Lamar Smith.
During the trial, Stockley's attorneys said the former officer shot Smith to defend himself -- but prosecutors argued he shot Smith before planting a gun in his car. Stockley was charged with murder and armed criminal action in the shooting, which followed a police chase tied to an alleged drug deal.
Stockley, who'd previously waived his right to a jury trial, is the latest of several police officers who have been acquitted on criminal charges for using lethal force in recent years. None of the officers tried in Baltimore in the Freddie Gray case were convicted.
St. Louis has braced itself for potential violent protests and traffic jams related to the verdict. Some private schools canceled classes and sports activities -- and some schools have given information to parents about early dismissals and school closings in case of any disruptions.
District spokeswoman Meredith Price wrote in an email to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the school system's "top priority is student safety, and -- should the verdict come tomorrow -- we will make decisions based on student safety."
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson spoke about the highly-anticipated trial earlier this week.
"Ask ourselves how we might feel if it were our son, daughter, mother, father, or friend at the center of this legal decision. Ask ourselves if we can turn this anxiety and distrust into something constructive," she said.