ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner charged a St. Louis County police officer who struck and killed a 12-year-old girl in October 2019 while he was on duty with involuntary manslaughter.
Preston Marquart, 25, turned himself in to St. Louis authorities Wednesday and posted 10% of his $25,000 bail, according to his attorneys Joe Hogan and Gabe Crocker.
In a statement, Gardner wrote: "The charges follow an exhaustive and detailed investigation in collaboration with our partners in the Sixth District and Traffic Divisions of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department."
It continued: "This is an unspeakable tragedy for her family and loved ones. While nothing can bring Akeelah back, we will do all in our power to seek justice in her memory."
Akeelah's cousin, Ashley Jackson, who lives in Atlanta told 5 On Your Side Wednesday that she and her sisters helped raise Akeelah, known as "Kee Kee" along with their grandmother, who had custody of her, but that Akeelah recently reunited with her father in St. Louis.
"I’m so happy that we got justice, now I can finally sleep at night even though it won't bring her back. I’d do anything to see her beautiful smile and hear her funny voice."
But some, including the St. Louis County Police Association and the officer's attorneys are calling the charges political.
St. Louis Police Sgt. Keith Barrett said the traffic division did not apply for charges in the case and called it an "accident" in his statement.
"Our department did not apply for charges as a result of this accident. The Circuit Attorney’s Office reviewed the findings of the report and made the decision to issue the warrant."
But a St. Louis police officer signed the probable cause statement on the warrant, which states Marquart "pursued" a black Camaro from the county into the city at an "ever-increasing rate of speed without activating the emergency lights and siren on his police vehicle."
It continues: "As the defendant sped southbound on Halls Ferry Road at nearly twice the speed limit, he noted the victim, Akeelah Jackson, and another girl on the side of the road ahead of his vehicle yet continued to operate the motor vehicle at an accelerated rate of speed without lights or siren activated."
Gardner's spokeswoman, Allison Hawk, said the traffic officer did "a number of follow up tasks and signed the probable cause on behalf of SLMPD."
Hogan said the city's traffic division told him months ago that they did not believe criminal charges were warranted in the case, and Wednesday's charges are purely political on Gardner's part.
"She didn't like the results of the SLMPD investigation so she went out and found one they liked," he said. "This isn’t a whodunnit.
"The evidence has been the same since Oct. 14. Nothing has changed except election day got closer. It's no secret that Mrs. Gardner's office refuses to issue charges police officers bring her with overwhelming evidence, but there is a completely different standard when it comes to police officers."
In a statement, Hogan and Crocker called it "a sad day."
"My client is devastated by the tragedy that took the life of Akeelah Jackson and continues to pray for her family daily," he wrote. "It is unfortunate that Mrs. Gardner continues to make charging decisions based on scoring political points, despite the effect this decision will have not only on my client, but on the entire Jackson family. I am confident when all the facts come to light of this tragedy that took place in 30 seconds, my client will be completely exonerated of all charges."
The St. Louis County Police Association also extended its condolences to the Jackson family, and said in a statement that the focus should be on the family for their loss and not on the "incompetent investigation by the St. Louis Circuit Attorney."
"While we acknowledge the Circuit Attorney’s Office has the legal right to conduct its own investigations, it is clear she is using that authority not for the purpose of pursuing truth or justice but to further a political agenda," according to the statement. "This is a matter for the courts now and we are confident that when all the facts and circumstances are evaluated in an unbiased forum, the judicial system will reach the same conclusion of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department that this was a horrible accident."
Akeelah was struck just within the city’s border near the traffic circle along New Halls Ferry Road. She died from her injuries in November 2019.
At the time of the accident, St. Louis County police say the officer was speeding to catch up to a suspicious vehicle when Akeelah Jackson darted in front of him. He did not have his lights and siren activated at the time.
He remained at the scene.
At the time, St. Louis County Sgt. Benjamin Granda said technology in the police car showed the chase lasted 32 seconds and that the dashboard camera was not on at the time of the incident. He later added the camera was not on because the department is working to roll out new technology and that officers have not been trained on how to use the dash cameras.
The department’s policy concerning pursuits is on its website, and states, in part, "The use of siren is not necessary unless the vehicle fails to yield or the attempt to stop the vehicle requires a violation of traffic laws on the part of the officer. In that event, both the lights and siren should be activated."
The officer did not catch the vehicle it was pursuing. He also said the technology in the car clocked the police car going 59 miles per hour in a stretch where the speed limit is 30 miles per hour.
The department placed the officer on administrative leave following the incident.
He's now been suspended without pay, but remains employed by the department, Granda said.
“Akeelah and her loved ones continue to be in our thoughts and prayers, just as they have been since that tragic day," Granda wrote.
Marquart was hired in March 2017.