ST. LOUIS, Missouri — St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner is coming under increasing pressure to resign as the public learns more about the failures in her office that led to a teen girl from Tennessee losing her legs in a car crash during a volleyball trip.
In the immediate aftermath of new reporting that revealed a series of troubling breakdowns in her office, Gardner issued a defensive statement accusing others of being "selfish" and for trying "to twist the facts to take advantage of this situation." Her statement did not include anything that resembled an apology to the victim or her family.
"Lord, have mercy," Missouri House Democrat Raychel Proudie (D-Ferguson) replied. "Every single word of this statement should've been about Janae Edmondson. Instead, half of it is political BS her Tennessee family has neither any idea of or a damn thing to do with."
St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones said on Wednesday that she was "disturbed by the statement from the Circuit Attorney in this case."
The mayor, who has long been a political ally of Gardner's, scheduled an improvised media appearance in the middle of the workday to issue her public rebuke of Gardner's term as the city's prosecutor.
"Take some accountability," Jones said. "Accountability isn't weak. Accountability isn't pointing fingers. Accountability is when something goes wrong, you take accountability, say 'This is my mess up,' and, 'How can we work together to fix it?'"
Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey, a Republican, demanded more than accountability Wednesday evening. In a statement, he said Gardner must resign by noon on Thursday or face immediate removal proceedings from his office.
“It is time for the Circuit Attorney to go and for the rule of law and justice to prevail,” Bailey said in his statement.
"It's just been ball dropped after ball dropped after ball dropped," said State Representative Rasheen Aldridge (D-District 78).
He's now making an about face. He supported St. Louis Circuity Attorney Kim Gardner in her initial bid in 2016 and again in her re-election. Now the Democrat is calling for a fellow Democrat, Kim Gardner to leave her post.
"Things have to change," Aldridge said.
He joins a growing number of lawmakers who are calling for the same.
Wednesday, a host of tweets and statements from elected officials now saying enough, including a letter from St. Louis Alderman Thomas Oldenburg (D-Ward 16). "Unfortunately our Circuit Attorney has displayed a pattern of malfeasance that has caused irreparable harm to residents," he said.
"We have to have a circuit attorney's office that is working effectively and at full capacity with trust of residents in our city," Board of Aldermen President Megan Green said. She fell short of calling for Gardner to resign Wednesday, but said she's willing to offer support to Gardner's office if needed. "We need to have better investments in enforcement."
The escalating concerns come after the tragic crash involving teenager Janae Edmonson who was visiting St. Louis for a volleyball tournament. Police say Daniel Riley sped down St. Charles street, failing to break, hitting several cars, pinning the teenager. She had to have her legs amputated. Riley was scheduled to go to trial for an armed robbery but Gardner never prosecuted the case.
"The situation that happened over the weekend was the final straw that broke the camel's back...At some point you have to prosecute somebody. You have to be able to prosecute people who are doing wrong," Aldridge added.
Wednesday night, Gardner released a statement expressing sympathy to the teenage victim, saying she will hold the suspect accountable. Gardner said she never wanted him out of jail and claims judges then denied her requests for Riley to have tougher bond guidelines.
Gardner says just last month she asked the court for a new hearing to address Riley's case, but says she never got a response.
Missouri Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden (R-Columbia) called Gardner "incompetent and grossly unfit to hold her office."
"She should resign or I will systematically and aggressively work with my colleagues in the Missouri legislature to ensure her incompetence isn’t putting more lives in danger," Rowden said.
"This dysfunction cannot continue," Alderman Mike Gras (D-Ward 28) said. “For the good of our city, I am calling on Circuit Attorney Gardner to resign.”
"Everyone involved in the criminal justice system needs to do their job and own their mistakes," Alderwoman Anne Schweitzer (D-Ward 13) said.
"I can't see how she can defend herself," Alderman Joe Vollmer (D-Ward 10) said of Gardner. "This is a calamity. If she cared about the city of St. Louis, she would resign. There's no ownership. I can't believe she's in office, but she's been elected."
Mayor Jones stopped just short of demanding her resignation but raised questions about Gardner's willingness or ability to remain on the job.
"She really needs to do some soul searching on whether or not she wants to continue as circuit attorney, because she's lost the trust of the people," Jones said.
Gardner has not yet responded directly to calls for her to resign.
"This incident — and others — has highlighted the fact that some improvements need to be made in her office," Jones said.
Jones says she has not spoken directly with Gardner about the tragedy, but that she has communicated with her through staff in her administration in an attempt to "pull everyone in the room, look at the process, see where the gaps were, and try to make sure that this doesn't happen again."
Daniel Riley, a 21-year-old man from St. Louis, faces multiple new criminal charges for striking 17-year-old Janae Edmondson with his car while out on bond. Edmondson remains hospitalized in stable critical condition.
Gardner's office dropped armed robbery charges against Riley last summer. Court records say the prosecutor's office wasn't ready to proceed at the time.
In a statement to 5 On Your Side's I-Team, Gardner's office initially claimed the victim in that armed robbery was dead, and that’s why prosecutors were not ready to go to trial against his alleged attacker. However, the father of that armed robbery victim told the I-Team's Christine Byers that his son is still alive, and they tried to push to see Riley imprisoned. Circuit Attorney’s Chief Warrant Officer Chris Hinckley said the victim was entered into “the system” as deceased, and that he didn’t know how the mistake happened.
While he was out on bond, court records show Riley violated the terms of his house arrest more than 90 times in total, more than 50 of those stemming from the armed robbery charges.
In an exceedingly rare move, the circuit courts released a public statement on Tuesday claiming that the judge overseeing the case was not automatically notified of the house arrest violations and highlighted the prosecutor's role in proactively monitoring violations and bringing criminal suspects before a judge.
"Notice is not emailed to judges on any filing on any criminal or civil case," circuit court spokesman Joel Currier said in an email. "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 hearing any motions deemed
appropriate. It is not appropriate to act as advocate for any side in any
case in our system of government.
"In the cases mentioned above, every time a violation was filed, the assigned prosecutor and defense attorney of record received a notification via email according to normal procedure. However, the prosecutor, to date, has never filed a motion to revoke Riley's bond in response to any of the 51 violations filed in his pending robbery case."
President of the Board of Aldermen Megan Green joined Mayor Jones at the Wednesday afternoon press conference and echoed concerns that Gardner has lost the public trust.
"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," Green said. "And so I am standing here as president of the board willing to assist the circuit attorney and anything that she needs to ensure that we can get her office to a place where it is working effectively, efficiently and can regain the trust of residents of our city."
As Jones ramps up her public criticism of Gardner, she's also hyping up the potential of the new police chief she hired last month, Robert Tracy.
"We are working to make the city a safer place," Jones said. "I mean, I'm not trying to say that our new police chief is a savior by any means, but he has experience coming into cities of our similar demographics and improving things and making change. So we want to give this police chief time to work."