I admire St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner’s strategic moves to turn the tables on a cadre of powerful, well connected individuals she believes are complicit in a coordinated, racist conspiracy aimed at forcing her out of office.
The rally on January 14, where nearly a dozen black women elected prosecutors came from across the country to support Gardner, was a brilliant way to emphasize a larger point: reform-minded prosecutors are under siege, not only in St. Louis but all over the country. The public event shined light on a legalized structure where well-connected lawyers and judges, an out-of-control police department and the mayor’s office are all colluding to maintain an outdated, racist system.
The crème de la crème of Garner’s pushback is the federal lawsuit she filed against city officials, the police union, a special prosecutor and others she alleges are part of the conspiracy. By filing the lawsuit under the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, Gardner can not only expose an insidious local plot, she may also help establish a new template for battling entrenched systematic racism nationwide.
Here's why: After passage of the Ku Klux Klan Act, the government was obligated to intervene when individuals or groups tried to deny “any person or any class of persons” equal protection and equal privileges under the laws.
St. Louis has a long and sordid history of legally compromising the rights and liberties of black people. Ever since the aggressive police response to protestors after the police shooting of Michael Brown in 2014 and the Jason Stockley acquittal in 2017, St. Louis has earned the “new Selma” moniker. People across the country are once again reading about St. Louis and its entrenched Old South style of justice. The circuit attorney’s lawsuit threatens to expose the clandestine tentacles of the powerful forces desperate to maintain the status quo.
Let’s review. In 2016, Missouri Governor Eric Greitens was a rising star in the Republican Party and possible future presidential candidate. Greitens’ star faded once it became public that he ran an off-the-books gubernatorial campaign and had a sexual relationship with his hairdresser. The woman alleged that he took nude photos of her and threatened to release them if she ever revealed their tryst.
GOP leaders were prepared to impeach the governor but had no real interest in seeing Greitens jailed for his alleged crimes. Gardner eventually charged Greitens with two felony charges: invasion of privacy in connection with extramarital affair and improper use of the donor lists for fundraising purposes.
This is when the power players flexed their collective muscles. Gardner filed a report with the St. Louis police, alleging that lawyers representing Greitens told her that her career would be "ruined personally [and] professionally" if she did not drop the criminal charges against Greitens. The legal team is headed by Ed Dowd, one of the most influential legal power players in the region.
Gardner said the police initially chose not to investigate the allegations. Jeff Roorda, business agent of the St. Louis Police Officers Association (SLPOA), had already publicly denounced Gardner. The fact that she had tried to create a special unit to investigate police-involved shootings, announced that her office would no longer prosecute nonviolent, low-level marijuana cases and created a Brady List of officers whom she no longer trusted to put on the witness stand made her a target of the police department.
Not trusting the police, Gardner hired a private attorney, former FBI agent William Tisaby, to investigate Greitens. After the governor resigned in June 2018, the focus of scrutiny shifted to Gardner. Greitens’ legal team claimed Tisaby lied during a deposition. Although slow to investigate Gardner’s allegations against Greitens’ lawyers, police eagerly responded to the perjury allegations against Tisaby. With paper-thin evidence, they convinced a judge to appoint a special prosecutor to the case.
Ironically, that prosecutor, attorney Gerard Carmody, was once a co-worker and remains close friends with Dowd. Mayor Lyda Krewson’s appointee, City Counselor Julian Bush, presented the case to a grand jury on behalf of the police department. Carmody was able to obtain a search warrant that allowed the police to seize all files stored on the circuit attorney’s server. Gardner rightly responded that the broad and unlimited scope of the warrant threatened individuals’ privacy and jeopardized criminal investigations and prosecutions.
Krewson and President of the Board of Aldermen Lewis Reed occupy two of three seats on the city’s Board of Estimate and Apportionment board (E&A). They refused to approve the transfer of funds Gardner needed to defend herself against the police department. The third E&A member, Comptroller Darlene Green, disagreed, arguing that if the city was willing pay the special prosecutor’s fees, it should cover Gardner’s legal fees.
Kudos to the black ministers, activists, visiting prosecutors and Gardner herself. In St. Louis, the struggle for justice and accountability continues. Hopefully Gardner’s lawsuit may serve as a much-needed rebuke to the defenders of good-ole-boy racism.