Last Wednesday evening, Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey issued an ultimatum to St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner: resign, or be removed. The ultimatum came amid public outrage over a tragic accident that could have been prevented. But Gardner, a George Soros–backed progressive and the city’s chief prosecutor, remains defiant amid growing calls for her resignation from regional business leaders, the Missouri governor, and some of her own supporters.
Tennessee teenager Janae Edmondson, a star athlete who had recently accepted a college scholarship to play volleyball, was visiting St. Louis with her family for a tournament on the weekend of February 18. As they walked to their hotel, a speeding driver failed to yield at an intersection and collided with another vehicle, which struck Edmondson and pinned her between the cars. Janae’s father, a military veteran, applied two tourniquets with belts as Janae’s mother held up her head; both of her legs required amputation. A GoFundMe account for Janae has already raised over $550,000.
The driver of the speeding vehicle, Daniel Riley, was out on house arrest with GPS monitoring while awaiting trial for a 2020 armed robbery charge. Riley’s first trial had been set to take place in July 2022, but prosecutors were not prepared for the case, saying incorrectly that the robbery victim had died. The trial did not occur, but prosecutors refiled charges against Riley immediately, and he was re-released on house arrest with monitoring. Since July 2022, court records show that he had accrued more than 40 GPS violations. Yet Gardner’s office filed no motions to revoke Riley’s bond.
Rather than take responsibility for the mistake, Gardner lashed out at her critics, saying it is “not the time for finger pointing” by “those who choose to twist the facts to take advantage of this situation for their own selfish motives.” The statement drew rebukes from business leaders and fellow Democrats. St. Louis mayor Tishaura Jones, an advocate of defunding the police, said that Gardner “must do some serious soul-searching about her future as circuit attorney because she has lost the trust of the people.” The CEO of Greater St. Louis Inc., a business and civic advocacy group, said that Gardner’s failures were “unforgivable.” In a second statement, Gardner apologized to the Edmondson family but criticized the judge in Riley’s case, saying that “judges have the sole authority to determine the bond conditions of a defendant.”
Gardner has drawn much criticism since being elected to her post six years ago, but she now faces a more significant challenge: a bid from Bailey, the state attorney general, to remove her from office. During a press conference, Gardner said she had done nothing wrong and accused Bailey of disregarding the will of voters. His petition in quo warranto—a legal mechanism through which the state attorney general can seek a prosecuting attorney’s ouster—alleges that Gardner has failed to prosecute cases in a timely manner, violated her duties to inform victims of case dispositions, and neglected to charge new cases referred by the police. On Friday, a state appeals court judge was assigned to the case after every city judge recused himself, citing a conflict of interest. Those judges are now potential witnesses in the case against Gardner. Ultimately, that judge will determine Gardner’s future.
Gardner’s tenure has been marked by crime and chaos. Since she took office in 2017, St. Louis has seen more than 1,200 homicides, 23,000 aggravated assaults, and 20,500 vehicle thefts. In the five years before Gardner took office, the city had 29 percent fewer homicides and 10 percent fewer aggravated assaults. While violent crime has always plagued St. Louis, the inability to prosecute crime did not. The Circuit Attorney’s office has lost at least 470 years of collective experience from staff departures. There is a backlog of about 3,000 cases pending review by prosecutors. In 2021, the office dismissed 36 percent of the felonies it initially charged. Last year, the office dismissed charges against a man accused of detonating a car bomb after prosecutors failed to provide the defendant with a speedy trial. During a 2021 murder trial, prosecutors failed to show up to court multiple times, forcing the judge to dismiss the case. The judge said that Gardner and her office had “essentially abandoned its duty to prosecute those it charges with crimes.” In a separate disciplinary matter, Gardner was fined and reprimanded by Missouri’s state supreme court for her handling of the botched prosecution against former governor Eric Greitens (in whose administration I served).
Gardner’s strategy has been to go on the attack—not against crime, but against her critics. In 2019, she published an “exclusion list” of 59 police officers whose cases her office would not bring to trial. In 2020, she filed a federal civil rights suit against the city, the police department, and the police union, alleging a racist conspiracy to oust her from office in violation of the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871. She then appeared on PBS to declare St. Louis “ground zero” for criminal-justice reform efforts and compared attempts to hold her accountable with a “modern day night ride.”
In previous public battles, other progressive prosecutors rallied behind Gardner. Al Sharpton defended her during the prosecution of a couple who famously pointed guns at Black Lives Matter protesters in front of their home, and Kamala Harris congratulated her on her 2020 primary victory. But her allies seem to have turned. The local press has published scathing coverage of the Edmonson case, while Democratic aldermen and state legislators have joined in calling for her resignation.
Gardner will no doubt hold onto her office unless she is legally removed. She was a useful foil for the Republican-dominated state government. But it shouldn’t have taken a young girl losing her legs for state and local leaders to withdraw their support for her. Perhaps the state’s elected officials have—finally—realized that Missouri can thrive only if its second-largest city cracks down on violent crime.
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