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Byers' Beat: Behind the clash between Eric Schmitt and Kim Gardner

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt and St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner clashed this week over charging looters, riots
Credit: KSDK
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner

ST. LOUIS — It’s safe to say there is no love between St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner and Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt.

And this week, any hope of it ever being found evaporated.

Monday night into Tuesday, a large peaceful protest through the streets of downtown St. Louis devolved into violence unlike our city has ever seen in recent memory.

Four officers were shot. A beloved 77-year-old retired police captain was murdered defending a pawn shop from looters. A Missouri Highway Patrol trooper took a bullet to his face shield. And dozens of businesses were vandalized, looted and at least one was burned.

St. Louis police officers arrested 36 people on suspicion of charges related to the violence.

By Wednesday morning, all of them were released without being criminally charged after the 24-hour period in which police are allowed to hold someone without charges expired.

(Two of them were given summonses for violating a city ordinance.)

RELATED: Looters, rioters not being prosecuted by circuit attorney, says attorney general; Kim Gardner responds

Schmitt, a Republican, quickly criticized Gardner, a Democrat, for not charging them, using words like “appalling,” “shocking,” and “stunning." He vowed to work with the feds to get charges issued.

“To see that kind of level of violence and rioting that went on, police officers being shot and shot at, a retired police captain being murdered, people throwing rocks and gasoline and frozen water bottles at police officers, firefighters being assaulted and blocked from doing their job, businesses that have served the community for years being burned to the ground, it’s unfathomable that every single person arrested that night has been released,” Schmitt said.

St. Louis police said they had enough evidence to apply for charges against only eight people within the 24-hour mark, but Gardner refused to issue charges against those individuals.

That leaves 26 people remaining – which department spokeswoman Officer Michelle Woodling says officers need more time to develop evidence against.

Gardner posted a statement on YouTube, blasting Schmitt.

“While the AG continues to fuel division in the community at a time of great pain, suffering and racial divide, my response to the AG is, I got work to do,” she said.

The two have been clashing for months.

Schmitt tried to get concurrent jurisdiction in St. Louis – which essentially would allow officers to bring cases to his office at the same time as they did Gardner’s instead of only to her office, first.

RELATED: Could St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner lose control over certain cases?

Prosecutors statewide opposed the idea, saying the citizens elect their prosecutors to act in their best interest and to swoop in and take that away from voters is a slippery slope.

So far, the idea hasn’t gone anywhere.

Meanwhile, Schmitt is working with the U.S. Attorney to get federal charges issued in as many St. Louis cases as possible.

But that’s not always easy.

Prosecutors must prove an element of a crime had a federal-level offense.

Maybe someone crossing state lines to commit the crime? Or a higher amount of drugs were involved?

That will take time, too.

‘Good cops, bad cops’

I also wanted to share my thoughts about the unrest this week.

People often ask me how I get scoops on officers behaving badly.

My answer is simple: Good cops don’t like bad cops.

And I know a lot of good cops.

This week, I talked to many of them about all of the protests that have followed the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.

Not one of them defended the officers involved in that situation.

Many of them repeated how the awful actions of officers like those involved in Floyd’s death make their jobs extremely difficult, and decimate progress they have been trying to make among the residents they serve.

I’m glad I know a lot of good cops.

Watch for Christine Byers' column every Friday. She will go beyond the headlines of the top stories in St. Louis.

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