ST. LOUIS — Byers' Beat is a weekly column written by the I-Team's Christine Byers, who has covered public safety in St. Louis for 15 years. It is intended to offer context and analysis to the week's biggest crime stories and public safety issues.
ST. LOUIS —Chris Desilets is likely one of only two men left standing in the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Violent Crimes Unit.
On Thursday, Judge Michael Noble called Desilets and his boss, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner or her designee, to appear before him and explain why Desilets missed a trial in his courtroom along with a subsequent hearing to discuss the absence.
Gardner sent Assistant Circuit Attorney Rob Huq as her stand-in.
He couldn’t answer most of the judge’s questions, including how many cases Desilets is juggling.
So, to the judge, that means Gardner doesn’t know either.
But the judge did his research.
“Would you be surprised if I informed you that he has 104 felonies?” Noble said to Huq.
“I would not,” Huq said.
“All right, do you know how many murder cases he has?” Noble asked.
“I do not know,” Huq said.
“Do you know how many violent crimes?”
“Can you tell me anything about Mr. Desilets' workload beyond what you've just described to me?”
“Your Honor, I cannot.”
“All right, so you're here as Ms. Gardner's designee, but you can't tell me anything about Mr. Desilets.”
Noble then found there was enough evidence to proceed to a contempt hearing because he said Gardner has done nothing to reduce unrealistic caseloads like Desilets’ that lead to multiple scheduling conflicts and missing trials and hearings like the one in his courtroom.
So just how many prosecutors are left in the Circuit Attorney’s Office?
As of Feb. 21, the Missouri Attorney General stated there were 470 violent felonies assigned to six attorneys, according to data gathered in court records showing attorneys assigned to cases.
Since then, four of those attorneys have resigned.
Based on interviews I’ve done with current and former employees in the office along with those court documents filed by the Missouri Attorney General, here is my count for the total number of attorneys left in the Circuit Attorney’s Office:
- 2 assigned to Violent Felonies.
- 6 assigned to General Felonies.
- 6 assigned to Special Victims Unit.
- 1 assigned to Grand Jury.
- 1 assigned to White Collar Crimes.
- 2 assigned to Misdemeanors.
Gardner’s spokeswoman Allison Hawk disputes there are only two prosecutors currently handling violent felony cases in St. Louis.
Hawk says there is a “full team of attorneys in the office handling cases” and said this week there are “well over 30” attorneys assigned to handle violent felony cases.
Desilets has 104 of them – including the case he failed to show up for involving Cassandra Hopkins’ son, Steven Linell Vincent Jr.
He’s accused of firing multiple gunshots at a residential building along North Garrison Avenue in the Jeff-Vander-Lou neighborhood in October 2020 – one of which struck an 11-year-old girl in the arm while she was in her bedroom.
That's the case that led Noble to hold Thursday's hearing. Hopkins was there. The victims were not.
Hopkins told us that her son is innocent and has waited three years to prove it.
If she did, then she said she believes the one who holds her son’s constitutional right to a trial in his hands would have shown up.
Gardner's office on Friday sent 5 On Your Side the following statement:
"The Circuit Attorney’s Office is taking the necessary measures to ensure justice is served in all cases including working with the courts to make sure the proper contingencies are in place. The office can't speak on personnel matters. This is temporary, and the CAO continues to aggressively recruit and hire attorneys and support staff to serve the people of the city of St. Louis."