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Thursday, September 3, 2020

Missouri Legislature Stays Up Late To Target Kim Gardner

Posted By on Thu, Sep 3, 2020 at 1:38 PM

click to enlarge St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner. - DANNY WICENTOWSKI
  • DANNY WICENTOWSKI
  • St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner.

It only took them sixteen hours, but last night/this morning the Missouri Senate finally managed to pass a package of bills targeting violent crime in St. Louis — and its top prosecutor, Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner.

Under an amendment voted on in the wee hours of Thursday (and which still requires approval from the House before it can become law) the Missouri attorney general would have the power to intervene in city murder cases if more than 90 days have passed since the crime or if the chief law enforcement officer sends the AG a request.



The amendment would empower the AG to take over a case even if charges had been brought and later dismissed.

This measure, creating a "concurrent jurisdiction" between the Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt and St. Louis' Circuit Attorney, was first raised as a request by Parson himself, who in August urged the legislature to address Gardner's "disturbing trend of not going after murderers, which deprives victims of justice."

However, as Riverfront Times' pointed out in last week's cover story, Parson's stated evidence for that trend — that "only 33 homicide cases have been charged so far this year out of 161" — appears more than a little misleading when taken with the fact that, according to the St. Louis police department, officers had made just 44 arrests in homicide cases as of August 14.

And it's the criminal charges that Gardner has filed, against St. Louis gun couple the McCloskeys, that have raised Gardner's standing to archvillain in both Missouri and national politics.

Parson's August request to allow the state to intervene in St. Louis' homicide cases drew a sharp rebuke from Democrats and threw the House's special session into disarray. The House ultimately took no action on the measure.

And then, in the early hours of Thursday morning, the concurrent jurisdiction measure was revived in the Senate, this time as an amendment to a bill that had nothing to do with the Attorney General's Office. (The bill would make some otherwise inadmissible witness statements admissible even if the witness does not appear in court.)

The Gardner-targeting amendment was proposed by Lake Saint Louis lawmaker Bob Onder; he'd previously proposed a standalone bill to give Missouri's governor the power to unilaterally replace a circuit attorney "for any crimes, misconduct, willful neglect of duty, corruption in office, or incompetency."

While that measure failed, Onder revived the proposal for concurrent jurisdiction on the same logic: that Gardner is ignoring homicides.

“She’s not doing her job. She’s too busy prosecuting the McCloskeys and the former governor while children are dying,” said Onder during the floor debate.

Senator Jamilah Nasheed (D-St. Louis) fired back that Onder was trying to blame the complex causes of violent crime on Gardner.

“Here you are trying to strip away her power simply because she’s a Black woman standing up for criminal justice reform,” Nasheed said, according to a report by St. Louis Public Radio.

Democrats in the Senate attempted to block the amendment, debating the issue for six hours before Republicans used a procedural motion to force a vote. It's not yet clear when the House will convene to take up the issues.

Before the all-night drama, the Missouri Senate gave final approval to a repeal of the requirement for St. Louis police officers, firefighters, and EMS to reside in the city.


Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at
@D_Towski. E-mail the author at Danny.Wicentowski@RiverfrontTimes.com
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