- No charges will be filed in the death of Justin King, prosecutor David S. Smith announced.
- Smith invoked “castle doctrine” law, which allows people to defend themselves using deadly force.
- Activists say Missouri repeatedly fails to bring charges against those who kill Black men.
A Missouri prosecutor announced Wednesday that no charges will be filed in the death of Justin King, a Black and Filipino man who was fatally shot by his white neighbor last year.
“I am declining to issue charges related to the death of Mr. King,” Crawford County Prosecuting Attorney David S. Smith wrote in a statement to Insider outlining the findings of the sheriff department’s investigation.
King, 28, was fatally shot on Nov. 3 outside his mobile home in Bourbon, Missouri a rural town about 75 miles (121km) outside of St. Louis. He had moved to the area from St. Louis to be closer to his daughter, Harlee, according to his family.
His death resulted in protests and community outrage over how the case was handled by police as well as conflicting reports as to what actually happened the day King was shot.
While the Crawford County Sheriff’s office initially labeled the shooting as an act of self-defense in the immediate aftermath of King’s death, neighbors said the shooter — who had previously been arrested and charged for second-degree assault and unlawful use of a weapon while intoxicated — had a history of using racial slurs and had threatened to kill King months before he did so, according to NBC News.
Prosecutor and inquest panel invoke “castle law” doctrine and self-defense in determining cause of death
Per Smith’s statement, King and the shooter were helping another neighbor find her dogs on the morning of the shooting.
The dog owner accused King of letting the dogs off their chains, which made King “agitated,” wrote Smith.
After the dogs were found, King returned home, upon which the shooter visited him. The neighbor has not been named because he hasn’t been charged with a crime.
The visit appeared “cordial,” said Smith, particularly because King could be heard saying, “Love you bro” when the neighbor left in security camera footage from his trailer.
Less than an hour later, King was seen on video running out of his residence and to the front door of the shooter’s home, according to Smith. Video footage shows that he banged on the neighbor’s door for twenty seconds, before turning home.
King stopped on his way back to his own residence, returned to the neighbor’s house and continued to bang on the door before he “made entry into the shooter’s residence,” per Smith’s statement.
King and his neighbor exited the home approximately 45 seconds later and engaged in a “physical struggle until the shooter exited the covered porch walking rapidly with a gun visible in his hand,” the statement said.
An autopsy revealed that King was shot three times.
Smith invoked Missouri’s “castle doctrine” law which allows people to use deadly force against intruders if they believe such force is necessary to protect themselves when a person unlawfully enters or attempts to unlawfully enter their private property.
The prosecutor’s announcement follows Tuesday’s ruling from an inquest panel composed of six Crawford County residents that the shooting of King was justified.
The inquest was called to assist the coroner’s office in ascertaining how King died. Smith said its purpose was “to provide an independent review of the incident.”
While the results of an inquest don’t determine whether the prosecutor’s office will press charges, they can hold some weight in the decision.
“I fully concur with the finding of the coroner’s inquest panel,” wrote Smith in the statement.
Activists see decision as part of Missouri’s legacy of failing to bring charges against those who kill Black men
Smith’s decision not to press charges has incensed racial justice activists, who are weary of self-defense being used indiscriminately to justify the killing of Black men. They say that Missouri’s criminal justice system in particular has a long legacy of failing to bring charges against those who kill Black men.
Such activists cite cases like Tory Sanders, who died in jail in 2017 after a white sheriff pressed a knee to his neck, and Derontae Martin, a 19-year-old who was found dead after getting shot at a party last year.
In both of these cases, neither the sheriff, nor the man thought to be responsible for Martin’s death, faced charges.
Following Sanders’ death, the Missouri State Conference of the NAACP issued a travel advisory warning people to take “extreme caution” when traveling to the state because “race, gender and color-based crimes have a long history in Missouri.” The travel advisory is still in effect today.
Nimrod Chapel Jr., president of Missouri’s NAACP chapter and the lawyer representing King’s family, did not respond to Insider’s requests for comment, nor did King’s mother, Eva Bruns, and father, John King.
However, Chapel questioned the inquest’s findings and whether all the evidence had been presented at the Tuesday hearing, per the Associated Press.
“Sad is an understatement,” Chapel said of the panel’s decision. “We’re still seeking justice and that will continue as the days go on.”