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Byers' Beat: How can St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner be held accountable?

This week, two families said the Circuit Attorney's Office failed to tell them about developments in murder cases, and one murder suspect is now on the run

ST. LOUIS — It has not been a good week for crime victims and their families in St. Louis – and holding the public official responsible for it accountable doesn’t look promising.

On Monday, I met with the family of murder victim Randy Moore whose alleged killer was released from jail after St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner’s prosecutors failed to show up for three hearings on the case.

Prosecutors re-filed the charges against him, erroneously announced he was still in custody and never contacted the murder victim’s family to tell them all that had happened as they are required to do by law.

We confirmed with police that the suspect, Brandon Campbell, had, in fact, been released from jail contrary to what Gardner was issuing in statements to the media.

And we warned the family that Campbell – who knows them and where they live – was out.

“Why are they not doing their jobs?” asked Cierra Moore, one of Randy Moore’s five sisters. “What was so hard about picking up the phone to call us?”

St. Louis police have since put out a plea to the public to help find Campbell, and the Moore family said Gardner called them saying she had made a big mistake.

"Kim Gardner is a poor excuse for a prosecutor," said Brandy Veasley, another one of Moore's sisters. 

The last time Campbell went on the run, U.S. Marshals tracked him down in Texas.

Another mother, Shirley Washington Cobb, contacted me this week furious over a plea deal she said Gardner’s prosecutors had struck with her son’s alleged killer without her knowledge.

Again, the law requires crime victim’s families be kept informed of the developments in their loved one’s cases.

Cobb said she only found out about the deal by chance when she called Gardner’s office to ask when she should book her flight to St. Louis from her home in Texas.

On that call, she learned the prosecutor who originally handled her son’s case had left the office and a new prosecutor, Srikant Chigurupati, had been assigned. He told her they were moving forward with an eight-year plea deal that the previous prosecutor agreed to – a claim Cobb strongly denies.

She said the previous prosecutor, Jay Godsy, told her in front of two witnesses that he believed there was enough evidence to go to trial and seek a 20-year sentence and that he planned to reject the eight-year plea deal.

Credit: Shirley Washington Cobb
Shirley Washington Cobb kisses her son in the hospital. He was beaten in 2020 and later died.

She wrote letters to the judge on the case, begging him not to accept the plea deal and said Gardner herself along with two of her staff members called to “bully” her into accepting the deal, saying the evidence in the case wasn’t strong and she is risking losing at trial and setting him free.

Cobb is standing her ground, believing instead in what the original prosecutor and homicide detectives have told her about the evidence in the case.

Gardner’s prosecutor emailed her after stories about the situation appeared in the news.

It read:

Hi Shirley --

An reporter just contacted me and said you told her you did not believe that Jay made the offer and that I was eating some chips while talking to you?

Why would you do that to me? I told you what you needed to do if you were upset (email the judge and my supervisors) and you know Jay told you about the offer. It's just you're saying he said he would not extend the offer. So why don't talk to defense attorney Matt Waltz about who extended the offer to him.

Sai

The note made Cobb even less confident in Gardner’s office, to say the least.

The plea hearing in her son’s case is scheduled to take place Monday.

Gardner’s only response to this situation was a statement, which read: “Our office is unable to comment on that case as it is currently pending. Our Victim Services department works closely with victims and their families.”

So when an elected prosecutor violates the Crime Victim’s Rights law, and “abandons its duty to prosecute those it charges with crimes,” according to the judge who dismissed the murder case, what can be done?

The obvious answer is voting for someone else.

Gardner just won re-election in 2020 by a landslide, so she has three more years on her term.

The city has a recall provision, but it doesn’t apply to county offices. 

The Circuit Attorney’s Office – like the City Treasurer’s Office, the Collector of Revenue, the Recorder of Deeds, License Collector, the Sheriff's Office – is technically a county office.

That's because the city is actually a county, and those offices are not subject to the city's charter.

But she’s not exempt from a bar complaint, and anyone can file those.

Those complaints can lead to discipline up to and including disbarment – which would then make her ineligible to hold the office – but, typically, elected attorneys only get disbarred for much more serious crimes and it’s rare.

Gardner is already the subject of a disciplinary proceeding for allegedly being complicit in one of her former investigator’s alleged crimes. She hired that investigator, William Tisaby, to investigate former Gov. Eric Greitens, and he has been accused of lying in a 2018 deposition.

His indictment also accused Gardner of failing to correct Tisaby’s inaccuracies during that deposition or report them, and that she made incorrect statements to defense lawyers and a judge.

A decision in that matter could still take months.

Another option to hold an elected prosecutor like Gardner accountable is something called the quo warranto process.

It’s basically a legal challenge to a person's right to hold a public or corporate office.

Potential grounds for the removal of an elected official would be if someone abandons their duties. 

In his dismissal order, Judge Jason Sengheiser used those exact words to admonish Gardner before he dropped the charges against the man accused of killing Randy Moore. 

Who then could file such a motion?

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt has so far not given any indication that he is willing to initiate such a process against Gardner.

But the city’s attorneys can.

The likelihood of that happening is slim.

Mayor Tishaura Jones has closely aligned herself with Gardner, standing with her during a news conference following a tour of one of the city’s jails to call out what she said were inhumane conditions there.

And the city counselor’s office doesn’t jump without Jones telling them to.

Credit: UPI
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner makes her comments as new St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones and Public Safety Director Dan Isom, listen in after touring the Medium Security Institution with other political leaders in St. Louis on Saturday, April 24, 2021. The facility, commonly referred to as the "Workhouse" is the second jail in the City of St. Louis, built in 1966 and has come under fire because of deplorable conditions. Jones, sworn in as Mayor on April 20, 2021, has vowed to close the facility within 100 days of her tenure. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI

5 On Your Side’s Casey Nolen asked Jones about her feelings on all of the news that broke this week about Gardner’s office, and she said: “The circuit attorney is an independently elected official and she is accountable to the citizens of the City of St. Louis. I can't tell her how to run her office, and I don't expect her to tell me how to run mine.”

As of this writing, the Moore family is still in fear of where Campbell might be.