St. Louis Circuit Attorney Gardner has ‘lost the trust of the people,’ Mayor Jones says
Updated at 6:15 p.m. Feb. 22 with comments from Republican legislative leaders and other lawmakers
St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones and Board of Aldermen President Megan Green blasted Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner following missteps by her office that culminated in a defendant who remained free despite violating his bond causing a car crash that cost a 17-year-old girl both of her legs.
The circuit attorney “really needs to do some soul-searching on whether or not she wants to continue as circuit attorney,” Jones said Wednesday. “She has lost the trust of the people.”
Green said the city needs a circuit attorney’s office that is working effectively.
“I am standing here as president of the board willing to assist the circuit attorney in anything that she needs to ensure that we can get her office to a place where it is working effectively, efficiently and can regain the trust of residents in our city,” Green said.
Daniel Riley, 21, was charged Jan. 17 in a 2020 armed robbery. Circuit Judge David Roither released him on his own recognizance but required GPS monitoring for house arrest. On Saturday, Riley ignored a stop sign in downtown and collided with another car, police said. Janae Edmondson, who was in town for a volleyball tournament and was walking near the crash, was hit and later had to have both her legs amputated.
Court records show that Riley had violated conditions of his bond at least eight times before the crash, but Gardner’s office never filed a motion to revoke the bond and send him to jail.
In a statement released on Twitter on Tuesday, Gardner called it “unfortunate” that people were choosing to “twist the facts to take advantage of the situation for their own selfish motives.”
“This is not the time for finger-pointing, it’s time to support this family and ensure that justice is served,” she wrote.
Jones said Wednesday the lack of accountability in the statement from Gardner was “disturbing.”
“Accountability isn't weak,” Jones said. “It isn’t pointing figures. Accountability is, when something goes wrong, you say, ‘This is my mess-up, and how can we work together to fix it?’”'
Alderman Shane Cohn of the 25th Ward, who like the mayor aligns with Gardner ideologically on criminal justice reform, posted Wednesday evening on Facebook that he and many of his colleagues shared the sentiment of Green and Jones that Gardner had lost the trust of city residents.
"The Circuit Attorney must commit to doing better, and must demonstrate that her office can serve the citizens of this city," he wrote. "Otherwise, she is in the wrong job."
Jones said she has asked her Criminal Justice Coordinating Council to “pull everybody into a room” to be able to see where the gaps were in the case.
“I'll be totally honest with you, missteps by the office have damaged the reputation of the city,” the mayor said, pointing to combined efforts by lawmakers in Jefferson City to strip local control of the St. Louis police department, as well as a measure pending in the Missouri Senate that would allow the governor to appoint a special prosecutor in certain high-crime areas. Though Gardner is not specifically mentioned, the bill is widely viewed as targeting her.
The legislature's top Republicans, Senate President Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, and Speaker of the House Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, separately called for Gardner to resign on Wednesday.
"Kim Gardner is incompetent and grossly unfit to hold her office," Rowden tweeted. "She should resign or I will systematically and aggressively work with my colleagues in the #MOLeg to ensure her incompetence isn’t putting more lives in danger."
Plocher said Gardner's "willful neglect of duty" needed to end immediately.
"For far too long her dereliction of duty has resulted in horrible tragedies and a growing list of innocent victims who have seen their lives devastated. Rather than accept responsibility for her actions, she has deflected warranted criticism and refused help from state resources," he said in a statement.
Even lawmakers from Gardner's own party expressed dismay at her statement, which was widely derided as defensive and lacking empathy for Edmondson.
"I’m disappointed in Circuit Attorney Gardner’s tone-deaf response that focuses more on herself than the young woman whose life has been irrevocably changed," state Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, D-St. Louis, a candidate for alderman, wrote on Facebook. "I hope she reflects on what her office did wrong and how she can do better in the future so others can visit our great city safely."
Gardner had no comment about the remarks from Jones and Green.
The city has pledged millions of dollars toward pedestrian safety and traffic-calming measures, as well as a citywide traffic safety and mobility plan. Though it will take time to get the funding into circulation, Jones said the streets department will start work on a portion of South Grand soon.
“You've also seen increases in traffic stops,” she said. “We follow the data and deploy our law enforcement accordingly.”