ST. LOUIS, Missouri — If St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner is taking Mayor Tishaura Jones' admonition to restore public trust in her office, it's hard to see how.
In the four days since Gardner's longtime political ally claimed she had "lost the trust of the people," the city's top prosecutor has described herself as the victim, dodged direct questions, and dove further into division and deflection.
Gardner's office has also released several public statements and fact sheets that are riddled with errors, misleading information, or fabricated claims, all of which further undermine confidence in what her office says.
On Wednesday, Mayor Jones said, "Some improvements need to be made in (Gardner's) office." She referred to a Saturday night tragedy that cost 17-year-old Tennessee native Janae Edmondson her legs.
Daniel Riley, an armed robbery suspect with several house arrest violations, was behind the wheel when the crash occurred in downtown St. Louis.
"We did our job," Gardner said defiantly. "Could we do more? We could. But did we not do nothing? That is not true."
Gardner claimed that "On three separate occasions, as recently as last month, my office requested the defendant's bond be revoked."
However, Terry Niehoff, Riley's defense attorney, contradicted Gardner's account and said she fabricated two entries in her timeline of events.
"The only time they asked for bond revocation was in April 2022," Niehoff said in text messages to 5 On Your Side.
Gardner claimed her office asked the judge to revoke Riley's bond on Sunday, December 12, 2021. When her aides were confronted with the fact courts are closed on Sundays, they said perhaps the date was Monday, December 13th. A spokesman for the court said there was no record of a request on that date, and Niehoff also said that never happened.
Gardner's timeline also claimed prosecutors asked the judge to revoke bond last month, which Niehoff denies.
"Gardner never took an interest in this story until it became news," he said.
Gardner's office released the errant timeline on Wednesday after taking criticism from prominent progressive leaders within her own party.
"Take some accountability," Jones said. "Accountability isn't weak. Accountability isn't pointing fingers."
5 On Your Side offered Gardner several opportunities to sit down and answer direct questions about details of this case. On Saturday, her communications chief said, "with the lawsuit, we cannot" discuss the story.
One day later, that claim also proved to be false as Gardner appeared on an internet show to once again cast herself as the victim.
"It's funny how me, the prosecutor, the only elected official, the only voice of the people, is being targeted in this situation," Gardner told show host Roland Martin on The Black Star Network.
Martin took a sympathetic tone and never once pressed Gardner for specifics on the case. She used the platform to take several swipes at Bailey, tying him to Donald Trump and accusing him of doing bidding on behalf of the police union. She claimed if Missouri Republicans get their way, they will appoint a "shadow prosecutor," and "justify most of the officer-involved shooting cases."
Still, Gardner repeatedly cast blame at the feet of Judge Bryan Hettenbach, who presided over the Riley case and set his bond conditions.
The only time the defense was aware Gardner attempted to revoke bond was not actually mentioned in the written court documents online. She claims the assistant prosecutor asked the judge in a verbal conversation; but if that occurred, the request apparently never reached Riley or the public record.
Before Gardner's office ever failed to persuade a judge to revoke bond, her office lost a prime chance to secure a conviction at trial when they confused the armed robbery victim with a dead man.
"We like to pursue justice, not really convictions," Gardner told Martin in her Sunday interview.
Had her office secured Riley's conviction when he was ready for trial, he might've been behind bars.
"While it is true my office could have done more, to say we did nothing is only disingenuous, but is willfully ignorant," Gardner said in a combative press conference on Thursday.
That confession was the closest she would come to taking any personal accountability for Riley's status. She never publicly addressed any questions about the mistakes in the armed robbery case file, which aides in her office have blamed on a computer glitch. They have not yet provided any documentation or evidence to support that claim.
"In order to build a more just criminal justice system, we have to have a circuit attorney's office that is working effectively and at full capacity with the trust of residents in our city," Board of Aldermen President Megan Green said.
"We recognize that some are seeking clarity about the defendants past interactions with the criminal justice system," Gardner said.
Instead of providing that clarity, Gardner leaned into divisive racial rhetoric from some of her supporters who shouted over reporters who were working to understand details of the story.
“How is it that the media organizations who are responsible for researching these cases before they get on the news and start spewing facts got this so wrong," one of her supporters shouted at her, "since Judge Hettenbach was responsible for the bond which ultimately set the young man free?”
TV cameras were recording while the same man berated reporters before the press conference began. He told the press to ask Gardner whether Governor Mike Parson and Attorney General Andrew Bailey were members of the Ku Klux Klan.
"Unfortunately, the media establishes the narrative. They plant the seed in the mind of the community," one man lamented, wondering aloud why people "actually accept what they hear and read."
“We know that she don’t set bond, she don’t investigate crimes," he said.
Another defense attorney, who pointed out that he would typically oppose Gardner in the courtroom, lobbied on her behalf in the court of public opinion.
“Kim’s office has nothing to do with bond,” defense attorney and activist Jerryl Christmas said into a megaphone. Then he invoked the American Revolution.
"This country went to war over taxation without representation, and that’s what this is," he said. "They want to tax you and then not give you representation."
The attorney referred to Bailey's recent move to force Gardner out of office in a legal brief which cited "willful neglect" of the duties of her office.
Judges in the 22nd Judicial Circuit have unanimously recused themselves from the Gardner hearings because they may be called to testify against her. The Missouri Supreme Court referred the case to Appellate Court Judge John Torbitzky, a Parson appointee.
If the legal push to kick Gardner out of office is ultimately successful and the legislature doesn't greenlight a special election, Parson would appoint her replacement.
Gardner seemed to relish the Republican attacks as a convenient method to rally her political base against the GOP and distract from criticism from Jones and other Black Democrats. She called Bailey's legal proceeding a backdoor attempt at voter suppression.
Another vocal activist at her press event expressed a desire to “educate” the media. An aide for Gardner said she would handle that part at the podium.
Another Gardner supporter was heard on camera casting blame on the U.S. attorney’s office, which prosecutes federal crimes. Riley’s charges were alleged violations of state law filed in Missouri courts, and never would've come up in federal court.
The most perplexing chapter of the public spat is Gardner's initial reaction when given the chance to address the issues in private with her political allies.
The day before the mayor went public with her comments, staff in Jones' office reached out to Gardner and to court administration to inquire about ways to collaborate and improve the criminal justice system to ensure the notification and communication processes were working as they should.
"My office is working...to pull everybody in the room and try to make sure this doesn't happen again," Jones said.
Instead of cooperating with the mayor's office, Gardner released a scathing statement, accusing unnamed political opponents of "selfish motives."
Jones said she was "disturbed" by Gardner's defensive tone.
The following day, Gardner doubled down.
"There are numerous attacks on our office," she said. "There are numerous individuals that have an agenda to make sure that my office does not succeed."
"We're going to fight very hard for justice in spite of the vitriol, the hate, the racist attacks, the known manipulation of the court procedures to make sure our office fails."
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