St. Louis, MO – St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner announced on Thursday that she is resigning from office effective June 1, after pushing back against demands for her ouster for weeks.
Gardner, who has been accused by Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey of willfully neglecting the duties of her office, notified Missouri Governor Mike Parson in a letter on May 4 of her intent to resign.
Gardner noted in her letter that voters elected her office twice and that she has been committed making “the City of St. Louis safer and fairer.”
“Unfortunately, since the time I took office, as the first Black, female prosecutor in the State, people outside of the city have targeted me and, to advance their goals, have also targeted the fundamental rights of the city’s voters,” the 47-year-old prosecutor lamented.
“Since day one of my tenure as Circuit Attorney, I have experienced attacks on my reforms, on my judgement, on my integrity, on my prosecutorial discretion, on my responsibility to direct the limited resources of this office and more,” Gardner wrote.
She then floated the idea that those who disagree with her want to sabotage her office.
“Some of these attacks seem designed to stop the office from functioning, at the expense of public safety,” Gardner alleged. “There is no sign that the onslaught would stop for as long as I am in the office.”
“I can absorb those attacks, and I have,” she continued. “But I can neither enable nor allow the outright disenfranchisement of the people of the City of St Louis, nor can I allow these outsiders to effectively shut down our important work.”
Gardner said she would “continue to fight tirelessly” if it wasn’t for those two issues.
She said she must also fight to stop legislation aimed at changing her position from an elected office to an appointed one.
Missouri Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo (D-Independence) told NPR he was contacted by Gardner earlier in the week to discuss the idea of her resigning from office in exchange for lawmakers dropping proposed legislation that would allow the governor to appoint a special prosecutor in St. Louis for a five-year period if, “after reviewing various relevant statistics, the Governor determines that a threat to public safety and health exists…”
Rizzo said Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden also became involved in the negotiation.
“The most powerful weapon I have to fight back against these outsiders stealing your voices and your rights is to step back,” Gardner wrote. “And so, it is with a heavy heart but steadfast resolve that I am resigning my position as your circuit Attorney, effective June 1st.”
It is unclear what will become of the bill.
“I think that it is important to her that she left the office intact as far as autonomy and not having state control within the office, but I am very confident that she would like to move on with her life after being a political punching bag for the last five or six years,” Rizzo told NPR. “I don’t know anybody that wouldn’t want to move on.”
Gardner’s announcement came just days after a judge determined there is sufficient evidence that Gardner willfully neglected the duties of her office to proceed with seven of the 10 counts pending against her, KMOV reported.
She is also facing two separate contempt of court proceedings after her office failed to show up for two scheduled trials last month.
One case involved a shooting that injured an 11-year-old girl, KMOV reported.
The other involved a murder.
A judge opted not to hold Gardner in contempt on the no-show on the murder trial, but a judge did determine there was enough evidence in the other case to indicate the circuit attorney’s office disrespected the judicial process, KMOV reported.
A special prosecutor was appointed in that matter on Wednesday.
At least six assistant circuit attorneys and one chief trial assistant have recently resigned from Gardner’s office amid the chaos, KMOV reported.
The Circuit Attorney’s office has only about a third of the attorneys as it did when Gardner was elected, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Bailey said Gardner’s exit should be immediate.
“There is absolutely no reason for the Circuit Attorney to remain in office until June 1st,” he said in a statement after her announcement.
“We remain undeterred with our legal quest to forcibly remove her from office,” he continued. “Every day she remains puts the city of St. Louis in more danger. How many victims will there be between now and June 1st? How many defendants will have their constitutional rights violated? How many cases will continue to go unprosecuted?”
Missouri Lieutenant Governor Mike Kehoe said Gardner’s decision to quit “is a major step forward in restoring the rule of law in St. Louis,” KMOV reported.
“This is the only decision she has made during her tenure with which I agree,” Kehoe added. “Dysfunction in the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s office, and Kim Gardner’s unwillingness to take violent crime seriously, has hindered St. Louis for years. This resignation is long overdue. Further, Kim Gardner should never run for this office again.”
St. Louis Circuit Court judges released a statement on Thursday saying there are “deeply concerned about the high volume of serious criminal cases scheduled for trial in the coming weeks without assigned prosecutors,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
“We hope St. Louis’ next Circuit Attorney is successful in restoring stability to the office and rebuilding its ranks with experienced prosecutors,” the judges said.
Demands for Gardner’s ouster grew even louder on the heels of a horrific crash that resulted in a teenage girl losing both of her legs as a result of being hit by a driver who was out on bond despite having allegedly violated his conditions 51 times.
Janae Edmondson, a 17-year-old volleyball player from Tennessee, was visiting St. Louis for a volleyball tournament when the tragic incident occurred near the Dome at America’s Center on Feb. 18, KSDK reported.
Mid-Tennessee Volleyball Club Assistant Director Jeff Wismer said Edmondson had just wrapped up her first day of playing in the tournament and was walking back to the hotel with her family at about 8:40 p.m. when a vehicle crashed into her, according to the news outlet.
St. Louis police said a driver ran through a yield sign at the intersection of St. Charles and 11th and slammed into another car with enough force that the second vehicle went airborne, KMOV reported.
The second vehicle subsequently crashed into Edmondson, pinning her between the vehicle and a nearby parked car.
Investigators said the vehicle that caused the crash was traveling 45 miles per hour at the time of impact, which is 20 miles per hour above the posted speed limit, according to KMOV.
The critically-injured teen was rushed to the hospital, where doctors were left with no choice but to amputate both of her legs, KSDK reported.
Wismer said Edmondsdson is a three-sport athlete who just recently committed to play collegiate volleyball.
He described her as “a gifted kid with a great smile, who has toughness, perseverance and determination,” KSDK reported.
“Her life has changed, and we are going to need people to love her and support her and support that family as they evolve and we are just so thankful that she’s with us,” Wismer told KSDK.
Police identified the driver responsible for the crash as 21-year-old Daniel Riley, KMOV reported.
Riley and a passenger inside the vehicle he crashed into were both transported to the hospital with minor injuries.
He has since been arrested on multiple counts, KMOV reported.
But as details regarding Riley’s law violations and prior charges began to surface, many people began questioning why he was out on the streets in the first place.
The suspect was already out on bond and was under house arrest in connection with an armed robbery that took place in August of 2020 when he caused the horrific wreck, according to KTVI.
He was ordered to wear a GPS monitoring device while he waited for a trial on the armed robbery.
The trial, which was originally slated to take place in July of 2022, was postponed and is still pending.
In the meantime, court records indicate Riley violated the GPS monitoring conditions on more than 50 occasions, including 10 times in the month leading up to the crash, KTVI reported.
“My question to the local authorities in St. Louis is: ‘Why was this guy not in jail last spring?’” Wismer said in a statement to KTVI in February. “Why was he not on house arrest, wearing his cuffs? Someone needs to answer if he should have been prosecuted months or years ago. I need to know why, this family deserves to know why, and prosecution should be firm and swift, so this never happens again. This should not have occurred.”
Parson said at the time that more needed to be done to keep violent suspects behind bars.
“It’s a serious crime, and you see what price that young lady paid for it, she’s going to lose both her legs,” Parson said. “People will have to be held accountable. We are going to have to go back to those days when repeat offenders and violent offenders are taken off the streets of our state.”
St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones, who has historically been a staunch defender of Gardner, called the tragedy “preventable” and said she has asked the Circuit Attorney’s Office and other “judicial partners” to review the process that led up to Riley being out of jail, KMOV reported.
“This incident and others have highlighted the fact that some improvements need to be made in [Gardner’s] office,” Jones told KMOV in February. “She really needs to do some soul-searching as to whether she wants to continue as circuit attorney because she’s lost the trust of the people.”
Jones reflected back on that statement after Gardner’s resignation on Thursday.
“In February, I said Circuit Attorney Gardner should take accountability for her office and do some soul-searching to determine whether or not she wants to continue in her role,” Jones said in a statement, according to KMOV. “She has clearly taken that advice to heart by offering her resignation.”
“No one wanted to see the Circuit Attorney’s Office fail, and my administration has reached out consistently to the Office to offer assistance,” the mayor added. “We are hopeful that the governor will work with local leaders to appoint a successor who reflects the values of communities across St. Louis.”
Gardner pushed back against her critics as calls for her ouster grew louder back in February.
“It’s unfortunate that there are those who choose to twist the facts to take advantage of this situation for their own selfish motives,” she lamented at the time. “This is not the time for finger pointing, it’s time to support this family, and ensure that justice is served.”
Gardner’s office said Riley’s release on bond was the judge’s fault – not hers.
“This situation is a tragedy for our community and our criminal justice system. It’s important for the community to understand the prosecutor’s role in this process,” Gardner said in a statement, according to KTVI. “Judges have the sole authority to determine the bond conditions of a defendant… in this matter, prosecutors asked on several occasions for higher bonds, and those requests were denied.”
Gardner noted her office tried to have Riley’s bond revoked on Dec. 12, 2021, and again on Aug. 10, 2022.
She said the judge denied those requests.
She did not mention why no bond revocation had been requested since August of 2022 despite Riley having 10 alleged GPS violations in just one month alone prior to the crash.
The 22nd Circuit Court balked at Gardner’s placement of blame and pointed out judges have no knowledge about alleged GPS violations unless they are brought to their attention by the prosecution, KTVI reported.