Missouri governor to announce his pick as new St. Louis prosecutor after Kim Gardner resignation
May 19, 2023, 5:47 AM
(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Republican Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on Friday will announce his pick to serve out the remainder of Kim Gardner’s term as the chief prosecutor in St. Louis, following her sudden departure earlier this week.
Parson will be joined by Democratic Mayor Tishaura Jones and Police Chief Robert Tracy as he announces Gardner’s replacement as circuit attorney, a news release said. The appointee will fill out the term that runs through 2024.
Gardner, 47, had been the subject of an ouster effort by Republican Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey. Simultaneously, GOP-led state lawmakers were considering a bill allowing Parson to appoint a special prosecutor to handle violent crimes, effectively removing the bulk of Gardner’s responsibilities. She also faced possible contempt of court after her office failed to have an attorney present for the start of a trial.
Gardner announced on May 4 that she would resign effective June 1. Then unexpectedly on Tuesday, she announced her resignation was effective immediately.
The announcement created some uncertainty as to who was in charge of prosecuting the hundreds of criminal cases pending in St. Louis. Gardner’s office said St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell would take over, but Parson clarified later Tuesday that his general counsel would run the office with help from assistant attorneys general until he picked a permanent replacement.
Black clergy members met with Parson this week to urge him to appoint a Black person to the job. Parson was noncommital.
Gardner, a Democrat, became St. Louis’ first Black circuit attorney after her election in 2016. She easily won reelection in 2020.
She was part of a movement of progressive prosecutors who sought diversion to mental health treatment or drug abuse treatment for low-level crimes, pledged to hold police more accountable and proactively sought to free inmates who were wrongfully convicted.
She butted heads with police and conservatives from the outset. In 2018, her office she charged then-Gov. Eric Greitens, who at the time was seen as a rising star in GOP politics, with felony invasion of privacy, accusing him of taking a compromising photo of a woman during an affair. The charge was eventually dropped, and Greitens resigned in June 2018.
The Greitens case drew scrutiny that led to the written reprimand for failing to produce documents and mistakenly maintaining that all documents had been provided to Greitens’ lawyers.
In 2019, Gardner announced an “exclusion list” of city police officers prohibited from bringing cases to her office. The nearly 60 officers were accused of posting racist and anti-Muslim comments on social media.
A series of events this year culminated with her departure.
Bailey filed a lawsuit in February seeking Gardner’s ouster on three grounds: failure to prosecute existing cases; failure to file charges in cases brought by police; and failure to confer with and inform victims and their families about the status of cases.
Gardner said Bailey’s attack on her was politically and racially motivated.
A pivotal turning point came in February after 17-year-old Janae Edmondson, a volleyball standout from Tennessee, was struck by a speeding car after a tournament game in downtown St. Louis. She lost both legs.
The driver, 21-year-old Daniel Riley, was out on bond on a robbery charge despite nearly 100 bond violations including letting his GPS monitor die and breaking the terms of his house arrest. Critics questioned why Riley was free despite so many bond violations. Even Mayor Jones, also a Democrat, questioned if Gardner should remain in office.
This year also saw one of Gardner’s biggest victories.
In February, she convinced a judge to set aside the murder conviction of Lamar Johnson, who spent nearly three decades in prison. Johnson was convicted largely on the testimony of an eyewitness who later alleged he had been coerced into his statements.
Last week, Gardner filed a motion seeking a hearing to vacate the sentence of another longtime inmate, Christopher Dunn, who has spent 33 years in prison for a murder that Gardner believes he didn’t commit.