COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Republicans who want the state to take over prosecutions of violent crimes in St. Louis sharply criticized the city's embattled prosecutor on Monday after a teenage volleyball player from Tennessee lost her legs in a crash caused by a speeding driver facing felony charges.
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner is facing calls to resign from critics who blame her for failing to keep Daniel Riley, 21, behind bars before the Feb. 18 crash that injured 17-year-old Janae Edmondson.
“The entire situation could have and should have been avoided if not for the ineffectiveness of that office,” St. Louis Police Officers Association business manager Joe Steiger said during a Senate hearing for legislation that would give the governor the power to appoint a special prosecutor to take on violent crimes in counties with a homicide rate over a certain threshold. “Janae Edmondson isn’t the first victim who’s been affected by Ms. Gardner’s failures as circuit attorney, but hopefully she will be the last.”
Republican bill sponsor Rep. Lane Roberts said his legislation currently would apply only to Gardner. But he said Jackson County, home to parts of Kansas City, is “dangerously close” to reaching the applicable threshold. Under legislation that has already passed the House, a special prosecutor would serve for up to five years.
Missouri prosecutors said it also could apply to rural counties in instances where someone killed multiple people.
Riley had violated the conditions of his release dozens of times in a robbery case. He is now charged with assault and other crimes in the crash, and was ordered Monday to remain detained pending trial.
Court officials said they didn’t know Riley had violated his bond because prosecutors never filed a motion to revoke it. Gardner, who has vowed to remain in office, said last week that her office had verbally asked three times for Riley’s bond to be revoked, but a judge either denied or ignored the requests.
Republican Attorney General Andrew Bailey has filed court documents 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.
Bailey’s court filing said Riley had 94 bond violations since September 2020. Bailey also cited more than 200 pending murder and manslaughter cases and more than 4,000 other cases awaiting the review of Gardner's office after being submitted by police.
“In my mind, we are going to help the circuit attorney’s office whether she wants it or not,” Roberts said at Monday's Senate hearing.
Democratic St. Louis Sen. Karla May, who is Black, described the bill as a “Jim Crow” law. Gardner is also Black, as is some 45% of the population of St. Louis.
“I see this as an attack on St. Louis city and African American leadership,” May said.
Roberts and other Republicans said the change is needed to fight crime.
“Frankly, I don't care about gender or race or whether or not she likes broccoli. It doesn't matter to me,” Roberts said. “What matters to me is that the people committing these offenses are not being prosecuted.”
Gardner drew national attention in 2018 when she charged then-Gov. Eric Greitens with felony invasion of privacy, accusing him of taking a compromising photo of a woman during an extramarital affair. The charge was eventually dropped. But Greitens, a Republican who also under investigation by Missouri lawmakers, resigned in June 2018.
The case drew scrutiny that led to the conviction of Gardner’s investigator. Gardner received a written reprimand for failing to produce documents and mistakenly maintaining that all documents had been provided to Greitens’ lawyers.
In 2019, she drew the ire of St. Louis police when she placed dozens of officers on an “exclusion list,” prohibiting them from bringing cases. The list was developed after a national group accused the officers of posting racist and anti-Muslim comments on social media
The next year, Gardner filed a lawsuit accusing the city, a police union and others of a coordinated and racist conspiracy aimed at forcing her out of office.
Associated Press writer Heather Hollingsworth contributed to this report from Mission, Kansas.