Elliot Stabler crosses a hard line in "Smoked" (Season 12, Episode 24), and his actions keep him away from the SVU for a decade.
The episode centers on the murder of Annette Fox (Alice Barrett), who's struck down while shopping with her teenage daughter Jenna (Hayley McFarland). Previously, Fox was the victim of a sexual attack from celebrity hairstylist Luke Ronson (Andrew Howard), who now volunteers at a shelter run by beloved "Law & Order: SVU" recurring character Sister Peg (Charlayne Woodard).
Ronson denies involvement in Annette's death, but Stabler arrests him and two alleged accomplices, bringing them to SVU headquarters. Meanwhile, Sister Peg shows up at headquarters to deliver a photo to Jenna. When the younger Fox heads in to identify suspects in a lineup, she shockingly whips out a gun. In her grieved frenzy, she kills two of the suspects, along with Sister Peg.
Stabler shoots Jenna, who dies in his arms. He doesn't face punishment, but his actions weigh heavily on him, and he ends up deciding to retire from the NYPD. "Smoked" marks the last time Christopher Meloni would appear on "Law & Order: SVU" until the first episode of Season 22. Behind the scenes, Meloni's departure stemmed from contract negotiations, but the timing worked well for his character.
When police officers are responsible for the deaths of citizens, Internal Affairs conducts an investigation. If the officer's actions aren't considered justified, they may face arrest, trial, and prison time. But even if law enforcement officers are exonerated from any wrongdoing, public outcry may arise if an officer has shot, killed, or injured multiple suspects through the course of their career.
Before his retirement from the NYPD, Detective Stabler shot six different people — a very troubling number, especially from a hotheaded detective. Stabler's mentor, Captain Cragen, also considered this excessive. Along with Jenna Fox, Stabler shot three unnamed people as well as white supremacist Christopher Rawlings (Keith Siglinger) and corrupt cop Brad Kendall (Matt Mulhern). Other than Cragen, no one calls out Stabler on his heavy trigger finger. In all cases, Stabler is cleared of any wrongdoing and remains on the police force. Since he made his return to the franchise with "Law & Order: Organized Crime," Stabler's body count has only increased.
In Part 1 of a crossover with "Organized Crime," teenager Eli Stabler (Nicky Torchia) goes missing. Eli has grown up since he last appeared onscreen, and has gone through more in his first few weeks in New York City than he did during his ten-year absence. His life is in disarray: He's in a country he barely remembers, his mom was murdered, and his dad is working undercover. "The People vs. Richard Wheatley" appears in two parts, airing first in Season 23, Episode 9 of "SVU" and concluding on Season 2, Episode 9 of "Law & Order: Organized Crime."
Eli acts out, as teenagers are wont to do, and he runs away. Elliot Stabler is desperate to find his son and bring him home. He enlists the help of Benson, and together, they search for the boy. Unfortunately for Eli, he parties with an older woman who he later finds murdered, and he briefly goes on the run. His father doesn't use appropriate police channels to search for Eli. He never files a missing persons' report either.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Meloni reflected on his character's "Law & Order: SVU" return, arguing that Stabler has mellowed out in his absence from the world of "Law & Order." That's arguable, but he's still impulsive and willing to cross the line to get what he wants.