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Missouri attorney general calls for St. Louis prosecutor to quit or be removed

The Republican attorney general is seeking a court order declaring the Democratic St. Louis circuit attorney has forfeited her right to hold office.

ST. LOUIS (CN) — Calling the attempt to remove her as St. Louis circuit attorney politically motivated, Kim Gardner on Thursday doubled down on her accusations that it was a judge and not her office that was responsible for the release of a suspect who caused a car crash over the weekend that maimed a teenager. 

“Again, this is about the attorney general, as others, using this unfortunate incident and tragic happening to this young lady as a political stunt of an unelected individual who wants to use politics to one stop the voice of the people in the city of St. Louis,” Gardner, a progressive Democrat, said during a press conference. “This is nothing more than voter suppression, which we've seen our national level as well as in the state of Missouri.” 

Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey, a Republican, filed a writ of quo warranto Thursday afternoon after giving Gardner a noon deadline to resign on Wednesday night. 

The writ began by outlining an incident that made national headlines when Janae Edmundson, a 17-year-old volleyball player in town for a tournament, was trapped in between two cars during a vehicle collision while walking back to her hotel room Saturday night. Edmundson survived, but lost both legs. 

In the filing, Bailey claims Edmundson’s injuries are a direct result of a pattern of negligence from Gardner’s office. 

“For years, the Circuit Attorney’s Office has failed to prosecute cases to resolution, has failed to inform and confer with victims, and has failed to even review and file cases submitted by the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department,” the writ states. “Respondent has, therefore, forfeited her office.” 

The 18-page filing in St. Louis City Court alleges Gardner’s office has repeatedly failed to prosecute criminal cases, failed to inform and confer with victims, and has refused to exercise judgement to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to prosecute. 

The Edmundson accident sent long-running simmering tensions between Gardner and her conservative counterparts and law enforcement officials to a boil. They blame her for the driver of the car, Daniel Riley, being out on the streets when he should have been under house arrest for previous armed burglary charges. 

“Instead of protecting victims, Circuit Attorney Gardner is creating them,” Bailey said in a statement Wednesday demanding her resignation. “My office will do everything in its power to restore order, and eliminate the chaos in St. Louis caused by Kim Gardner’s neglect of her office.” 

Bailey called Riley, 21, “a dangerous gunman who should have been in jail.” 

He noted that Gardner’s office charged Riley in 2020 with first-degree robbery and armed criminal action for stealing a firearm from a victim at gunpoint. Gardner’s office dismissed and refiled that case on July 18, 2022, but not before Riley - who was out on bond - earned 54 separate violations for failing to comply with pre-trial bond conditions. After the circuit attorney refiled the case, Riley earned 50 more violations. Bailey claims Gardner’s office never filed a motion to revoke Riley’s bond. 

Gardner responded with a statement released on the circuit attorney’s Twitter account late Wednesday night pointing the finger at the judge in the case, Judge Bryan Hettenbach. Gardner claimed Hettenbach denied a request for bond revocation, that the court set a trial date without allowing the state to ensure witnesses were available, and that Hettenbach refused a request for a short continuance forcing the state to dismiss and immediately refile the case. 

Once the case was refiled, Gardner claims the court modified Riley’s bond allowing him to leave home for work “although they knew he was already leaving his home,” and prosecutors received no response from the court when they asked last month for a hearing to address Riley’s bond. 

“Judges have the sole authority to determine the bond conditions of a defendant,” Gardner said in the statement. “Bond violations and decisions do not solely rest on the shoulders of prosecutors. In this matter, prosecutors asked on several occasions for higher bonds, and those requests were denied.” 

A St. Louis City Court spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Gardner’s claims about how Hettenbach has handled the case. 

In his statement, Bailey threatened to remove Garnder through a writ of quo warranto by his office if she does not leave on her own. 

A writ of quo warranto centers around whether a person has forfeited the legal right to hold public office. Former Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster used the writ to seek the removal of the Dent County prosecutor in 2009, but the prosecutor resigned before the matter could be tried. 

Bailey claims the accident over the weekend is just the latest in a long pattern of “brazen neglect” by Gardner’s office. He said she has a longstanding history of failing to prosecute violent crime with a backlog of at least 3,000 cases. 

Gardner has been a controversial figure since becoming the first Black woman elected as St. Louis circuit attorney in 2016. 

She admitted to misconduct in handling an invasion of privacy case against former Governor Eric Greitens, a Republican. The St. Louis Police Union has also blasted Gardner for refusing to accept criminal cases from certain officers. 

Most recently, judges have raised concerns about chronic understaffing in the circuit attorney’s office that has led to numerous delays, including the dismissal of a murder charge after prosecutors failed to show up for hearings. 

But for the first time, members of Gardner’s own party have become critical of her – most notably St. Louis Mayor Tishaura O. Jones, who was once of Gardner’s most prominent supporters. 

“She really needs to do some soul-searching of whether or not she wants to continue as circuit attorney, because she’s lost the trust of the people,” Jones said during a press conference Wednesday. 

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