Kimberly Gardner

A prosecutor suing her own police force for perpetuating a racist conspiracy is not something you see every day. But that's what Kimberly Gardner, the chief prosecutor for St. Louis, Missouri, is doing.

Kimberly Gardner is the first African American circuit attorney in the history of St. Louis. She was elected in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson. Gardner won her election after running on a platform of rebuilding trust between law enforcement and St. Louis's black community.

Since taking office in 2017, Gardner has sought to reform both her office and the practices of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. And the city's white establishment has fought it, kicking and screaming at every turn, even going as far as to appoint a special prosecutor to criminally investigate her.

Now, Gardner is suing the City of St. Louis, the St. Louis Police Officers Association labor union, a special prosecutor appointed to investigate her office, and others for violating her civil and constitutional rights through a "racially motivated conspiracy to deny the civil rights of racial minorities."

The suit argues that the local officials targeting her have violated the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 and the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution and makes explosive allegations, like, "On information and belief and based on recent media reports, there are white supremacists on the St. Louis police force."

As the complaint notes,

The stakes are high. This case cries out for federal enforcement.

Here's the background

The white law enforcement establishment in St. Louis opposed Gardner before she even took office. When she was running for circuit attorney in 2016, she ran on a platform of reform and holding crooked cops responsible for their actions.

Gardner's election was notable for both her platform and her identity. NInety-five percent of elected county prosecutors in the US are white. Just one percent are black women.

Since then, Gardner's relationship with law enforcement has, if anything, gotten worse. As described by Blake Strode, executive director of civil rights organization ArchCity Defenders,

Almost from the moment she took office, she faced this chorus of people that questioned her competence and organizational and leadership skills in a way that to me has always seemed both gendered and racialized.

After she took office, Gardner followed through on several of her campaign promises to reform the circuit attorney's office. Among other things, she placed nearly 60 police officers on a list of people who aren't allowed to bring cases to her office because of concerns with their credibility; reformed bail practices; has declined to prosecute minor marijuana possession cases; implemented diversion programs; investigated police corruption and violence; decreased pretrial detention; and is instituting a system for independent review of officer-involved shootings.

As alleged in the complaint,

Gardner was elected in 2016 on a promise to redress the scourge of historical inequality and rebuild trust in the criminal justice system among communities of color.

Unfortunately, entrenched interests in St. Louis, including Defendants, have mobilized to thwart these efforts through a broad campaign of collusive conduct, including the unprecedented appointment of an ethically conflicted Special Prosecutor to investigate the activities of Gardner's office and a patently overbroad and unconstitutional ransacking of the office's electronic files.

In 2018, Gardner made headlines when she indicted then-Missouri governor Eric Greitens on a charge of felony invasion of privacy for taking a photo of his mistress without her consent while she was blindfolded, tied up, and partially clothed. The woman also told a state legislative committee "that she had also been coerced into sex and that he later slapped her."

To say the case was contentious would be an understatement. Both the prosecution and the defense ended up going to the police with complaints about each other. Ed Dowd, one of Greitens's attorneys, accused William Tisaby, a former FBI agent hired by Gardner to assist with her investigation of Greitens, of perjury. Gardner accused Greitens's lawyers of threatening her to drop the case.

The police only took one of the complaints seriously, and it wasn't Gardner's. On the one hand, a special prosecutor was appointed to investigate Gardner's office. On the other, no action was taken.

That special prosecutor is Jerry Carmody, a lifelong friend and former law partner of Dowd, the attorney who filed the complaint. Carmody is not a prosecutor but a civil and commercial real estate attorney in private practice, making for an especially strange appointment (particularly given his preexisting relationship with the attorney who had filed the complaint).

During his investigation, Carmody executed sweeping search warrants on Gardner's office. As alleged in the complaint, one of the warrants "requested electronic communications and files containing any one of thirty-one incredibly broad search terms, including '[n]otes,' '[b]ullet [p]oints,' and '[v]ideo,' without any limiting nexus to Tisaby or the Greitens case."

Despite Gardner's office having multiple investigations open into current and former members of the St. Louis PD,

The second search warrant, by its terms, allowed any "law enforcement personnel, or other individuals assisting law enforcement personnel" to execute the warrant and conduct the search. Such expansive language means that Carmody could share what was found with anyone "assisting" the effort, regardless of whether such person has been vetted for conflict of interest, safety, security, and privacy concerns, and regardless of whether that person has been duly appointed as part of the Special Prosecutor's investigation.

Metro officers also "physically took the server containing every email for every employee" of Gardner's office, despite the fact that

[a]s of the date on which Carmody and the Police Division took possession, custody, or control of all the information on the servers of the Circuit Attorney's Office, the Circuit Attorney was investigating approximately 40 cases of alleged police misconduct, including approximately 25 incidents in which people in the City of St. Louis claim either to have been shot by police officers or to have been subjected to some other kind of excessive force.

It was also around this time, says the complaint, that "at her office, Gardner began receiving threatening letters filled with racial invective."

A[] letter, received on or about May 16, 2018, called Gardner a "crooked, lying, NIGGER Cunt" and a "lowlife NIGGER BITCH" and demanded that she resign. On or around May 18, 2018, another letter arrived calling Gardner a "dumb shit burrhead" and a "dumb nigger bitch" and claimed her "problem is white people," threatening "you're not going to beat these white boys." Another such letter, received on or about June 29, 2019, called Gardner "incompitent [sic] and a racist," accused her of being "a handicap to police," directed her to "go away forever," and threatened that "[i]f you don't leave something will be done about you." Gardner reported these letters to the Police Division and, on information and belief, they unreasonably delayed any potential investigation into these potential threats to an elected official, even though at least one of the letters had a name and return address on it.

And, says the complaint, none of Carmody's actions were even part of a legitimate law enforcement investigation.

But the true purpose of Defendants' conduct is not to charge Gardner with any crime—because they know that she has not committed any. Rather, it is to thwart and impede her efforts to establish equal treatment under law for all St. Louis citizens at every turn; to remove her from the position to which she was duly elected—by any means necessary—and perhaps to show her successor what happens to Circuit Attorneys who dare to stand up for the equal rights of racial minorities in St. Louis.

Yikes

This is nuts. And the deeper you dig, the crazier it gets.

Jeff Roorda, one of the defendants, "is a former Arnold, Missouri police officer who was fired for making false statements and false reports." He is also the executive director and business manager of defendant St. Louis Police Officers Association, a police union that Gardner says "has gone out of its way to support white officers accused of perpetrating acts of violence and excessive force against African American citizens." In this capacity, Roorda wrote an op ed attacking Gardner, saying she had "declared war on the police officers that present cases to her" and that "you have to be scratching your head saying, 'How is she not in jail, or at least, removed from office?'" He claimed Gardner "certainly has misdemeaned herself in office and, has almost certainly, committed crimes[,]" and suggested that the state attorney general, state auditor, and Cole County prosecutor investigate Gardner.

A local reporter put it more kindly than I could when he said, "During the Ferguson unrest and since, Roorda has been the go-to guy for a racially divisive quote." I'd have called him a racist piece of shit who supports white supremacist police violence. Organizations including the NAACP, MacArthur Justice Center, ACLU, Missouri Faith Values, and others have called for Roorda to be fired.

Roorda has also called Gardner a "menace to society" and menacingly said should be removed from her office "by force or by choice."

Gardner filed her suit under the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, a federal law enacted during Reconstruction that aimed to curb white supremacist violence and control of legal systems around the country and ensure the civil rights of African Americans. As noted in the complaint,

An important original purpose of Section 1985 was to allow for federal judicial enforcement of the Fourteenth Amendment to curb conspiracies of white citizens who sought to interfere with state authorities' efforts to expand racial justice and equality in the former Confederacy.

The complaint further argues that

The United States Congress passed the Ku Klux Klan Act during the aftermath of the Civil War to address precisely this scenario: a racially-motivated conspiracy to deny the civil rights of racial minorities by obstructing a government official's efforts to ensure equal justice under law for all.

Gardner says the lawsuit was "not about Kim Gardner or any individual action," but to fight injustice.

This is about standing up for the people who elected me to pursue justice. This is about upholding equal protection and the laws of the land for all. We will not stop fighting.

The city and the police department have called the lawsuit "meritless," with Roorda saying it was "the last act of a desperate woman."

But while the establishment has gone on the attack, some black officers have come to Gardner's defense. The Ethical Society of Police (ESOP) issued a statement about Gardner's lawsuit, saying there is "a long history of racial discrimination in SLMPD that has never been adequately addressed." ESOP, the statement notes, "was founded as a separate police association from the SLPOA because of racial discrimination in SLMPD and a lack of equal representation by the SLPOA for their black officers." And it attacked the city's characterization of the allegations, saying that "denying racial biases are rampant is a slap in the face to minority and non-minority officers with whom we are proud to serve."

This case won't be easy for Gardner to win. She faces a high burden of proof and will be up against most of the white law enforcement establishment in St. Louis.

Gardner has some things to prove outside of the courtroom, as well. She is up for reelection this year.

Here's the full complaint. It's quite a read.



[ Complaint / ESOP / Missouri Times / CNN ]

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Jamie Lynn Crofts
Jamie Lynn Crofts is sick of your bullshit. When she’s not wrangling cats, she’s probably writing about nerdy legal stuff, rocking out at karaoke, or tweeting about god knows what. Jamie would kindly like to remind everyone that it’s perfectly legal to tell Bob Murray to eat shit.
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