ST. LOUIS — Jim Dandridge says his son is very much alive even though St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner’s Office told the I-Team Monday he wasn’t.
“He’s playing basketball as we speak right now,” Dandridge told the I-Team Tuesday during an exclusive interview.
A spokesman for Gardner’s office told the I-Team Dandridge’s son — an armed robbery victim — had died, and that’s why prosecutors were not ready to go to trial against his alleged attacker, Daniel Riley, 21, in July 2022.
Dandridge said his phone started blowing up with calls from friends and family after 5 On Your Side reported Riley was the man who police say caused a crash Saturday that left 17-year-old Janae Edmondson of Tennessee without her legs.
She was in town for a volleyball tournament and was walking to her hotel with her parents when police say Riley was speeding and crashed into a car that pinned the teen against another car.
“I'm sorry for what's happened to you,” Dandridge said to the Edmondsons. “We tried our best to put this person in jail for harming my son, for robbing my son. I'm sorry that St. Louis has let you and your family down.
“This should never have happened.”
Gardner’s spokeswoman Allison Hawk sent a statement to the I-Team late Tuesday, which read:
“A young girl’s life was tragically changed because of the inexcusable behavior of a young man. Our hearts go out to the victim and her family for this unspeakable tragedy that will undoubtedly have a lasting impact not only on her, but her family and loved ones. It’s unfortunate that there are those who chose to twist the facts to take advantage of this situation for their own selfish motives. This is not the time for finger pointing, it’s time to support this family and ensure that justice is served.”
Hawk refused to answer why prosecutors weren't ready to take Riley to trial in July for the robbery -- even though they had two years to prepare. She also would not clarify what facts had been twisted.
The I-Team caught up with the Circuit Attorney’s Chief Warrant Officer Chris Hinckley in court Tuesday as Edmondson’s parents begged a judge to keep Riley in jail with no bond.
Hinckley said Dandridge was entered into “the system” as deceased, and that he didn’t know how the mistake happened. He said the pandemic is the reason why it took nearly two years for prosecutors to bring Riley to trial for the armed robbery case, and he didn’t know why charges were dismissed the day the trial was supposed to start.
The I-Team obtained court documents showing Riley violated the terms of his bond, which included GPS monitoring and house arrest, at least 50 times before he was supposed to go trial in July 2022. He violated it at least 40 times ever since – the most recent of which happened just five days before Edmondson was struck.
In a statement from the courts, spokesman Joel Currier said the company that tracks GPS violations said Riley violated the terms of his bond 51 times since charges were refiled against him in July 2022.
The remaining violations disappeared from public view once the original charges were dismissed, but the I-Team obtained documents proving they occurred.
Gardner’s office did not file any motions with the judge asking for Riley’s bond to be revoked.
Hinckley told the I-Team Tuesday the judge gets notified of bond violations and chose not to revoke Riley’s bond. Hinckley also said Gardner’s office emailed the judge about the repeated violations and discussed the violations with the judge in court.
Currier said judges are not notified when GPS monitoring violations occur and it is the prosecutor’s duty to file a motion with the court asking to revoke a bond.
“As with every case, it is the responsibility of the attorneys of record to bring relevant matters to the court’s attention by filing and scheduling for hearings any motions deemed appropriate,” according to the statement. “It is not appropriate for the court to act as advocate for any side in any case in our system of government.”
Dandridge said his son did not know how many times Riley had violated the conditions of his bond, either.
“Somehow I want to say I felt I could have done more, but I don't know what I could have done, but I somehow felt responsible for this little girl being injured,” Dandridge said, as tears filled his eyes. “Maybe we should have pressed the circuit attorney to do more.”
Dandridge spoke on his son’s behalf because his son is fearful of Riley and the other two men who robbed him at gunpoint in August 2020.
Dandridge, a retired St. Louis police sergeant, said his son befriended Riley on Facebook when his son was trying to sell a gun. Dandridge’s son told Riley he would have to come to his house to buy the gun, but Riley pretended to be someone else, Dandridge said.
“He, through social media, indicated that his wife was a nurse, and she was working and he needed a ride to our house, so my son agreed to go pick him up and bring him back to our house so I could do a receipt like you're supposed to,” Dandridge said. “They were waiting for him when he got there.”
Dandridge said three men got inside his son’s car. One man pointed a rifle at him, and stole a gun Dandridge’s son carried with him for protection.
Dandridge said when police arrested Riley and the other two men a month after his son was robbed, one of them had Dandridge’s gun on him.
Dandridge said he was shocked when he learned Riley and the others were all released on bond with GPS monitoring despite the violent felony charges against them.
“This isn’t just a guy stealing cars or doing property crimes, this is an armed robber, I mean, my son’s lucky to be alive,” Dandridge said.
Dandridge said he was also shocked when Assistant Prosecutor Natalia Ogurkiewicz told the court she was not ready for trial two years later, and that she planned to dismiss the charges and re-file them.
“She said she had just returned from her honeymoon and wasn’t prepared for trial,” Dandridge recalled.
In January, a grand jury indicted Riley on the robbery charges.
Dandridge said his son was never informed.
Now he wonders if that’s because prosecutors thought he was dead.
“The prosecutor needs to stay in touch with the victims and find out what's going on,” Dandridge said. “How would they know if he moved or if he's alive or dead?
“Apparently, they got it wrong this time. It makes you wonder how inept they are.”
A judge ordered Riley be held without bond Tuesday for the charges related to Edmondson’s injuries.
Her parents wept before him, saying they were still trying to figure out how to tell their daughter she no longer has her legs.
Assistant Circuit Attorney Andrew Russek told the judge Riley had violated his bond on the robbery case 39 times since prosecutors re-filed charges against him in July.
That was the first the judge had heard of it.
Statement from Greater St. Louis, Inc. CEO Jason Hall:
“The events that harmed Janae Edmonson were tragic, and first and foremost, our thoughts are with her and her family. The criminal justice system must fully investigate and prosecute this crime and hold the perpetrator accountable.
This crime was as preventable as it is tragic. While this tragedy may serve as a turning point in the efforts to strengthen public safety, it only highlights the lingering issues that have gone unaddressed for far too long. We need immediate action. These issues are not new, and solving them requires all of us stepping up and coming together as one metro to develop a regional strategy to reduce crime and strengthen public safety. The ongoing failures of the Circuit Attorney’s office – with regard to the individual involved in this case as well as a litany of other cases that have not been brought to justice – are unforgiveable.”