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Byers' Beat: Ghost of Greitens case haunts on-duty sexual assault case involving St. Louis officer

Defense attorneys question whether Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner and her associates took notes during a meeting with the victim

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.

The ghost of the former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens case returned to St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner's Office this week in a case involving a former St. Louis Police Officer accused of an on-duty sexual assault. 

Defense attorneys for former officer John Stewart tried to get the case dismissed after the alleged victim did not show up for a deposition. 

They wanted to ask her questions about a meeting the victim and her former civil attorney had with Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner. Several of Gardner's staff members including Christopher Hinckley, Robert Steele, Eric Harris and Devon Vincent attended the meeting. 

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Defense attorneys also allege the victim changed her statement about the alleged assault after that meeting with Gardner and her associates, which took place six weeks before charges were issued in 2018. 

In an affidavit, the victim's former civil attorney, Kelly Chevalier said Gardner and her staff members had writing utensils and notepads at the meeting in which the 2015 assault was discussed. 

"At said meeting, my client was asked specific facts about an incident that occurred on June 12, 2015."

In response to the defense's motion to force Gardner's office to provide those notes, Gardner said she did not remember discussing the facts of the case with the victim at that meeting and took no notes.

Hinckley said he did not take notes during that meeting.

Harris recalled finding the victim to contact her about a meeting with the Circuit Attorney's Office, but does not remember whether he attended the meeting and does not have any notes from it.

Vincent said she recalled the meeting happened, but did not recall taking any notes during the meeting.

Defense attorneys are entitled to any notes taken during such meetings.

"Because the victim's statements have been so inconsistent as to be essential for determining the truth, any further recorded statements would absolutely be favorable to the defendant," wrote Stewart's attorney, Jonathan Bruntrager, in a pleading. 

On Wednesday, Judge David Dowd denied the defense’s motion to dismiss the case entirely, but said he would allow the defense’s motion to compel Gardner, Hinckley and Vincent to be deposed.

Assistant Circuit Attorney Jeremy Crowley then told Dowd he needed to discuss the matter with Gardner’s staff to determine whether to proceed with the case.

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Dowd then gave Gardner’s office until noon Friday to make a determination on whether the case will proceed.

With 15 minutes left before that deadline, Crowley told Dowd the state intends to move ahead with the case. 

Gardner has faced similar scrutiny about note-taking during meetings with victims in the past. 

During the investigation into allegations of invasion of privacy against Greitens, Gardner was seen on a video sitting next to William Don Tisaby as he was taking notes during an interview with the alleged victim. 

A seven-count indictment now accuses Tisaby of lying during a deposition about the existence of the notes. The indictment also said that while Tisaby claimed he didn’t receive notes from the prosecutor’s office before interviewing the woman, a document uncovered during grand jury proceedings shows Gardner provided Tisaby her notes, according to the Associated Press.

The indictment said Gardner failed to correct Tisaby’s inaccuracies or report them, and that she made incorrect statements to defense lawyers and a judge, according to the Associated Press.

Gardner herself is facing potential disciplinary action related to her actions during that case.

In the Stewart case, the victim, a 25-year-old woman who was six months pregnant, called police after her car had been stolen on June 12, 2015.

Stewart, then in his late 40s, responded in uniform and in a marked car.

Former Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce refused to issue charges against Stewart after the victim told police she consented to the sex act.

Gardner’s office charged Stewart with sodomy on Jan. 31, 2018.

In an unusual move, the victim wrote the probable cause statement used to charge Stewart. Typically, police officers write probable cause statements.

In the statement, the victim accused Stewart of asking to come into her apartment after he was done with his official police duties at the scene and began complimenting her. The victim wrote that she refused to let Stewart touch her, and he then exposed himself to her.

“I did not consent to the defendant’s sexual advances, but complied as I was in fear of serious physical injury to myself and my children, who were present at the time,” she wrote.

The victim said she preserved some of the evidence. 

The crime lab confirmed the presence of Stewart’s DNA on a garment and a cup.

The victim's cousin produced a documentary about the incident, interviewing the victim in a hospital bed while she was battling cancer. In the documentary, the victim said she had just put her four children to bed and feared Stewart might kill her if she didn’t comply. 

The incident happened not long after the shootings of Michael Brown and VonDerrit Myers – both Black men killed by white police officers during confrontations. The victim in Stewart’s case is Black. He is white.

“I did what I thought was best and that was being compliant,” the victim said in the documentary. “Obviously, he knew that I didn’t want to do it.”

Stewart resigned from the police department after the allegations surfaced. He had been with the department from Jan. 3, 1989 through June 13, 2015.

It appears what happens for him next depends on depositions. Should the defense get the depositions it is seeking, the judge will schedule a bench trial.

Read more Byers' Beat columns here.