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St. Louis Circuit Attorney Gabe Gore talks progressive policies, rebuilding office

Gov. Mike Parson appointed Gabe Gore to replace Kim Gardner, who resigned May 16 amid growing scrutiny of her office's prosecution policies.

ST. LOUIS — Just before 11 a.m. Wednesday, attorney Dan Diemer walked out of the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office with a manila envelope in hand.

“Finally got the evidence,” he said, waiving the envelope.

He’s been asking for it since his client, Daniel Riley, was accused in February of striking 17-year-old Janae Edmondson with his car, severing both of her legs and arguably setting into motion the downfall of former St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner.

Diemer took the delivery of the evidence as a welcome sign of a new administration that took over less than 24 hours before he picked up that envelope. Withholding evidence or delaying its delivery to defense attorneys were among the many accusations that led to the Missouri attorney general’s lawsuit to remove Gardner from office.  

She resigned on May 16. 

The new administration that delivered that evidence is being led by Gabe Gore

He also spent his second morning in office doing something different than Gardner -- granting one-on-one interviews with reporters who haven’t been allowed to question the St. Louis circuit attorney about policies and approach in years.

No question was off limits, including his position on the death penalty, where he stands on the reform-minded approach that won Gardner election twice and whether he will run for the office next year.

Progressive approaches to prosecution include diversion programs that give certain offenders alternatives to jail time, and the abolishment of cash bail to level the playing field for those who spend more time in jail because they can’t afford to post their bond than those who have the means to do so.

Victim advocates have told 5 On Your Side they resigned from the office because Gardner was allowing offenders to go through diversion programs regardless of a victim’s wishes – including domestic violence suspects.

Gore also discussed the immediate changes he has supported during his initial days as well as those the attorney general’s staff made before he was sworn in Tuesday. One of those changes includes reopening the warrant office, where police officers can apply for charges face-to-face with prosecutors on non-violent offenses.

During Gardner’s administration, officers submitted cases via an email account that her office allowed to back up into the thousands over the course of several years. One of the offenses that languished in that email box included a Hispanic family who captured a woman yelling racist threats at them on their home surveillance system and breaking into their home.

Only after that video went viral a year later on social media did Gardner’s office issue charges and said police did not show prosecutors the video evidence.

Here is a summary of the questions and answers Gore provided Tuesday. It has been revised and edited for clarity.

Q: You had a very prestigious job at Dowd Bennett, and you left that job and that salary to come here. Why did you leave that job to take this job? 

A: When (the resignation) happened, I received two types of calls. I received calls from people saying, ‘Is this something you would be interested in doing since the governor is going to have to appoint?’ The second type of call I received was calls from people assuming that I would be interested in doing it and saying, ‘What can I do to help you get the governor to appoint you?’ So when I got those inquiries, which was very flattering, I really thought to myself, ‘OK, I have to consider whether it is something I would be willing to do.’ As I thought about it, I thought there would only be a couple of reasons I wouldn't do it. 

One reason would be that it was going to be too much work and that I could fail. I didn't think that was a very good reason not to do it. The second reason would have been what you mentioned, the financial considerations that I'm going to take a pay cut this position. To me, when people are saying to you, ‘We believe that you could be helpful to the community in doing this, we think this is an important service you can provide,’ I'm not going to give either of those answers as to why I won't do it. So it ended up being really an easy decision. 

Q: Have you talked to Kim Gardner? 

A: No. 

Q: So, you're coming into this role, and you haven't been able to talk to the predecessor at all? 

A: I haven't attempted to. 

Q: What are some of the things you have seen in the short time you've been involved in this office right up front that you think need to be immediately addressed?

A: The first thing we need to address is getting the office staffed. We need to get our senior staff in here as quickly as possible … We need to build strong relationships, collaborative relationships with the police, and with our local prosecutors. I'm going to meet with clergy and every aspect of the community because that's what it's going to take for us to address the public safety and violent crime issue that exists in St. Louis. 

Q: How do you specifically plan to rebuild those relationships?

A: Similar to when you establish any relationship ... you first have to start listening … I'm sure at some point we're going to sit down and I'm going to say, ‘Now I have some suggestions for you about ways we can work better together.’

Q: The reopening of the warrant office, why is that so critical and why is that important?

A: That is basically the intake mechanism for cases. It's the way that it's been done here for many years. It really assists in making good decisions at the outset of a case. 

Q: How do you plan to address the staff that's already here that were supporters of those failed policies? 

A: We're looking forward, not looking backwards. You say that there's employees here who are staunch supporters of Kim, but that is not something I'm familiar with. But I'm going to really assess people and evaluate people from here going forward. That's how we're going to make decisions.

Q: Are you seeing any evidence that there was a successful diversion program in place?

A: The diversion program is certainly something we're going to look at and assess, but we just haven't done that yet. 

Q: What is your position on the exclusion list? 

A: I'm not really sure exactly what it is, but that's not really relevant. What I'm going to do is what I've always done in my career, which is, look at cases, look at the facts and the law, make a determination as to what you can prove in court and go forward. That's how I've always approached that in private practice and when I was a prosecutor, and that's how we're going to approach it in this office culture.

Q: What can you do to assure voters that you're going to carry on with a reform-minded prosecution approach, or is that just not your approach? 

A: I would say that I am someone who believes in doing what makes sense. It’s going to be a balanced approach. It's going to involve prevention, intervention and enforcement.

Q: What is your position on cash-only bonds? 

A: If my office's assessment is that there are no conditions under which a person can be released in which they won't pose a danger to themselves or the community, we're going to be seeking detention.

Q: Restorative justice, diversion and alternatives to sentencing? Those are progressive policies. Do you plan to approach this job with those philosophies in mind?

A: Diversion is something we're going to continue and we're going to do it in a way that makes sense … I can tell you this, people who commit violent crimes are going to be prosecuted. That's not something that we're going to back off on in any way at all.

Q: What is your position on the death penalty? 

A: I will consider it, consider all the factors, take a look at it and make a decision. That's the job of a circuit attorney, and that's what I'll do case by case. At this point in my career, I can't count up how many cases and how many investigations I've been involved in, but I can tell you this, I have truly approached each one as a single matter. Never cookie-cutter. 

Q: How do you plan to address the trials that are coming up within the coming days and weeks that are still assigned to prosecutors who no longer work here?

A: That is something that I've been focused on from the moment I was appointed. It's no coincidence that my first hire was a chief trial counsel, who's got to oversee that process. That's a high priority, and we're up on it. We're looking at it. I'm confident we're going to be able to navigate through that. 

Q: What is your plan to address the inexperience level in this office and training new attorneys? 

A: We're going to have to put something in place. I always tell people, the practice of law is basically apprenticeship. The new people learn from the people who are before them. The quality of lawyer that you are is a lot of times dictated by the quality of person who teaches you … in this scenario where we've lost so many senior people, we're going to have to figure out a way to devote additional resources to training. That's something that I'm already focused on and already focused on thinking of ways to get the resources to make up the training deficit that we currently have.

Q: There has also been talk about all these regional prosecutors wanting to help out in this situation, whether it be the county prosecutors, the U.S. attorney's office, the attorney general's office. How do you see those other entities helping you in this process? 

A: They're going to be key … we're going to rely heavily on getting the experienced prosecutors we need in the short term from our neighboring prosecuting offices. That would be the U.S. Attorney's Office, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, to the extent we can. 

Q: How do you address the thousands of cases that are piled up in an email box?

A: I assigned someone that assessed that literally probably an hour after I was sworn in, and we're going to assess it and we're going to approach it. Obviously, we're going to have to devote some additional resources to it. We're also going to have to be creative.

Q: Do you see yourself running for election for this office? 

A: I've made no decisions. I can say I am spending every waking moment thinking about what we need to do to turn this office around and start meeting our obligations to the courts and to the public. I'm not thinking about running for election … I'm not in a political campaign. I'm here to stabilize the office and play a role in addressing the violent crime crisis. That's my focus. I'm not focusing on votes or the next election.

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