Meet Kimberly Gardner, the Rogue Prosecutor Whose Policies Are Wreaking Havoc in St. Louis

COMMENTARY Crime and Justice

Meet Kimberly Gardner, the Rogue Prosecutor Whose Policies Are Wreaking Havoc in St. Louis

Apr 14th, 2021 14 min read

Commentary By

Zack Smith

Legal Fellow, Meese Center

Charles "Cully" Stimson @cullystimson

Acting Chief of Staff and Senior Legal Fellow

Kimberly Gardner, the beleaguered rogue prosecutor (called the “circuit attorney”) for the city of St. Louis, Missouri, has made a national name for herself. Mike Kline (notkalvin) / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

Her national reputation comes from her radical pro-criminal, anti-victim policies and a series of high-profile missteps she has made.

Questions arose about whether Gardner properly disclosed her activist-sponsored travel around the country.

Rather than acknowledging her mistakes and focusing on ways to combat the rising tide of violent crime in her city, Gardner seems to be doubling down.

This commentary is part of a series on the rogue prosecutors around the country who have been backed by liberal billionaires such as George Soros and Cari Tuna, and the threat those prosecutors pose to crime victims and others alike. Previous entries in the series focused on prosecutors in Baltimore (as well as investigations of misconduct possibly committed by this prosecutor), PhiladelphiaChicagoBostonFairfax County, VirginiaLos Angeles, and potential U.S. attorneys in the Biden administration.

Kimberly Gardner, the beleaguered rogue prosecutor (called the “circuit attorney”) for the city of St. Louis, Missouri, has made a national name for herself.

Unfortunately, as we demonstrate below, her national reputation comes from her radical pro-criminal, anti-victim policies and a series of high-profile missteps she has made.

Like many other rogue prosecutors around the country, she was swept into office by winning her 2016 election with a wave of money from George Soros and tech billionaire-funded entities, who again contributed heavily to help her win reelection in 2020.

As a recent “60 Minutes” piece put it, “She went right to work. She stopped locking up non-violent offenders, dropped low level drug cases and ended cash bail…”

So how are her “reforms” going?

Gardner Is Prosecuting Fewer Cases as Homicides Surge

Well, in 2020, the city of St. Louis suffered through 264 homicides. That’s a 36.1% increase from the previous year and only three homicides shy of the highest total in the city’s history, which topped out at 267 in 1993.

But on a per capita basis, last year’s murder rate was significantly higher because the city of St. Louis today has about 87,000 fewer residents than it did in 1993—meaning that the per capita murder rate in 1993 was 69 per 100,000 residents while in 2020 it was 87 murders per 100,000 residents.

That’s the highest per capita murder rate on record for the city in over 50 years.

And, unfortunately, it looks set to head even higher in 2021. As one local television station put it, “So far, there have been 50 homicides in the city of St. Louis for 2021,” meaning that the “homicide pace in 2021 is ahead of last year’s pace.”

Sadly, eight of those homicides happened in the first week of April alone.

As a City Journal article from last year said, “With a situation this grim, the city desperately needs competent and determined crime-fighters, but St. Louis Circuit Attorney (chief prosecutor) Kimberly Gardner remains focused not on law and order but on social justice—and on bizarre self-aggrandizement.”

Her office is charging fewer felonies, which she says harkens back to her “platform to reduce the number of cases unnecessarily charged in order to focus on the more difficult cases for trial.”

Her counterpart in Chicago, Kim Foxx, has said the same thing. And like Foxx, whom the Chicago Tribunefound was actually losing a higher percentage of her cases than her predecessor, the same holds true for Gardner. The numbers tell a troubling tale.

An investigation by a local television station “showed that in 2018, prosecutors got guilty verdicts in just 51% of cases. In 2019, the trial conviction rate was 54%.” Gardner’s office loses almost half the cases it takes to trial.

According to the news station, “historical data… showed the Circuit Attorney’s Office used to achieve guilty verdicts in approximately 72% of trials, on average.”

But it’s no wonder the conviction rate has plummeted so dramatically under Gardner’s watch. During her tenure, there has been more than 100% turnover in the prosecutor’s office. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the effect “is a state of dysfunction, low morale and dearth of legal wisdom necessary to safeguard the public from potentially dangerous criminals.”

A local criminal defense attorney (yes, that’s right, a defense attorney) said that “I’m a city resident and it’s scary… There’s no assurance that if you’re a victim of crime, that you or your cases are going to be treated well. I just feel like the prosecutors’ office is just a mess.”

Unfortunately, as we have previously written, that’s emblematic of the rogue prosecutor movement generally.

And like Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore’s rogue prosecutor, who has drawn criticism for her activist sponsored travel while violent crime soars in her city, Gardner has faced the same criticism.

As Violence Surges, Gardner Has Been Jetting Around on Improperly Disclosed Trips

Questions arose about whether Gardner properly disclosed her activist-sponsored travel—much of which was sponsored and paid for by Fair and Just Prosecution, which advocates for pro-criminal, anti-victim policies—dressed up as “reforms”—around the country.

According to News 4 in St. Louis, Gardner “has often been gone from her office a couple of times every month, jetting around on someone else’s dime.” Some of the people interviewed for that report said “that decisions delayed or made difficult by Gardner’s travel were related to budgets, grants and personnel issues like hiring and firing.”

Remember that high turnover rate? Those sources also told News 4 that “Gardner’s traveling was prolific and problematic… [and that] she was unreachable on trips, making it difficult to get decisions made.”

Since taking office, she has travelled to New York; Chicago; Seattle; Philadelphia; Cleveland; Atlanta; Washington, D.C.; New Haven, Connecticut; Selma, Alabama; and even outside the United States to Portugal, although it’s unclear exactly how exactly many trips she’s been on since it is unclear that she’s been properly reporting her trips.

As the saying goes, birds of a feather flock together. Gardner has been on these boondoggles just like fellow traveler Marilyn Mosby, who also has gotten into hot water for her trips, as we wrote about here.

And this wouldn’t be the first time that Gardner has run afoul of campaign reporting requirements. In 2019, the Missouri Ethics Commission fined Gardner and her campaign $63,0009 for campaign finance and reporting violations. However, it agreed to stay all but $6,314 (approximately 10%) of the fine, if she abided by all campaign finance rules and regulations for a two-year period after the January 2019 order. News flash: It appears she didn’t.

Then there’s her contentious relationship with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and the bizarre behavior mentioned earlier. This gets messy, so hold on.

Gardner’s Handling of the Eric Greitens Investigation Raises Serious Questions

In late 2017 and early 2018, it was revealed that then-Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens had engaged in an extra-marital affair and had allegedly taken a picture of his mistress without her consent.

Gardner opened a probe and eventually obtained an indictment against Greitens for invasion of privacy. She also opened another probe for alleged campaign finance violations by Greitens—which is especially rich considering her own history with such violations.

Nevertheless, concerns about Gardner’s handling of the case immediately began to emerge.

For starters, she attended an initial meeting with the potential victim without anyone else from her office, such as an investigator or a police officer, being present. That’s a mistake, because as any rookie prosecutor would tell you, if any questions come up about what was said or done at that meeting, the prosecutor risks becoming a witness in her own case. And guess what happened? Just that.

Greitens’s defense team raised questions about what Gardner had promised to the alleged victim, and a judge ordered her to testify about what was said in the meeting. Rather than testifying under oath, Gardner dismissed the charges. When Greitens later resigned from office, she also dropped the campaign finance investigation.

But that’s not the end of the story. Rather than using police officers to investigate the claims against Greitens, as is the usual protocol, Gardner’s office hired an outside private investigator to work the case. Greitens’s defense team deposed him about his work on the case and accused him of lying under oath during his deposition.

A Missouri judge appointed a special prosecutor to investigate, and the special prosecutor presented the case to a grand jury, which indicted the private investigator on six counts of perjury for statements he made during the deposition, plus an additional count of tampering with physical evidence.

The whole thing is troubling, but here’s where it gets particularly problematic for Gardner: As St. Louis Magazinereports, “Gardner sat by his side that day… [and] didn’t correct his testimony.”

Were his false statements things she couldn’t have known about? Unlikely, because as that same magazine article reports, one of the questions the defense team asked him was “whether he’d received any information from the circuit attorney before interacting with [the alleged victim].”

He said, no, “[y]et in reality, the grand jury alleged, Gardner had sent him six pages of notes, plus they’d spoken for five hours on the phone, exchanged more than 100 texts, and even met in person in Louisiana.”

Once the deposition resumed after a lunch break, the defense team asked if he “had been in contact with Gardner during the break.” He said, “Not at all.” As the same article again reports, “In reality, the indictment alleges, they had spoken at least seven times on the phone for a total of 34 minutes.”

Gardner argued that she didn’t have an affirmative duty to correct the statements because the private investigator wasn’t technically her client. Really? Is that the standard we want from our elected prosecutors (or any prosecutor, for that matter)? 

And would a similar tactic have landed a police officer on her office’s exclusion list, which bans those officers from bringing cases or warrant requests to her office because of concerns about their credibility and integrity? It certainly seems possible, if not probable. And we bet it would have.

Gardner Filed a Dubious Federal Lawsuit Alleging a Racially Motivated Conspiracy

But there’s more.

Rather than admitting her apparent errors, Gardner filed a federal lawsuit against the city of St. Louis, local police unions, and the special prosecutor investigating the perjury allegations, among others.

Her complaint alleged violations of the Ku Klux Klan Act, claiming that their conduct amounted to a “racially motivated conspiracy to deny the civil rights of racial minorities.”

In September 2020, an Obama-appointed federal judge dismissed her lawsuit and said that “[h]er 32-page complaint can best be described as a conglomeration of unrelated claims and conclusory statements supported by very few facts, which do not plead any recognizable cause of action.” He went on to say that “[h]er complaint is nothing more than a compilation of personal slights—none of which rise to a legal cause of action.”

Those are strong words, especially coming from a federal judge.  

Gardner Refuses to Comply with Missouri’s FOIA Law for Releasing Documents

Then there’s Gardner’s apparent defiance of a court order in litigation brought by a reporter under Missouri’s Sunshine Law, which is its state-level Freedom of Information Act law.

The reporter wanted information about whom Gardner and her office had communicated with prior to and during her investigations of Greitens. When the reporter didn’t receive the information, he filed a lawsuit and obtained a default judgment because Gardner’s office refused to respond. The judge in the case didn’t mince words. The fact that Gardner’s office had been given an extra 30 days to respond but failed to do so surely contributed to his criticism of Gardner for her “reckless, dilatory and intentional refusal to timely file a responsive pleading.”

Later that year, when Gardner’s office tried to walk back her previous failure to comply, the judge again made clear that “this didn’t just happen once. This is consistent behavior,” and that he thought that Gardner and her office were “attempting to obfuscate this process.”

A Judge Disqualified Gardner from Handling ‘Prosecution for Political Purposes

And then there’s Gardner’s mishandling of the Mark and Patricia McCloskey cases. Who can forget the images of the couple standing on their property, each wielding a gun, as Black Lives Matter protestors trespassed into their gated neighborhood and approached their house on their way to the home of the St. Louis mayor? Gardner charged the couple with unlawful use of weapons as well as evidence tampering.

Unfortunately, she also sought to use the case for political gain, and even sent two fundraising emails touting her prosecution of the McCloskeys. As a result, the judge handling Mark McCloskey’s case disqualified her from handling his prosecution, saying that her fundraising emails gave the appearance that she had “initiated a criminal prosecution for political purposes.” She was later disqualified from Patricia McCloskey’s case, too.

Gardner appealed, but the Missouri Eastern District Court of Appeals affirmed Gardner’s removal. Still not happy with the ruling, Gardner appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court, which also affirmed her removal from the cases.

Video Appears to Contradict Gardner’s Version of a Traffic Incident

And then there’s her bizarre encounter with a St. Louis police officer during a traffic stop. The officer says he pulled Gardner over—without knowing to whom the vehicle belonged at the time—because she was driving after dusk without her headlights on.

Gardner later claimed that the stop was an intimidation tactic, and that it lasted 15 minutes without the officer telling her why she had been stopped. She even summoned her own investigator to the scene.

Unfortunately for Gardner, the stop was captured on video, which appeared to tell a different story. The video shows that the stop only lasted six minutes before the officer released her. It also showed her driving with her lights off. She acknowledged this was the reason she was stopped, although she later claimed that she didn’t know why she was stopped.

This reminds us of another bizarre encounter rogue prosecutor Rachael Rollins had with a news crew that was seeking information about a parking lot incident involving Rollins. Again, the news crew’s video appeared to call into question Rollins’s version of events.

If Gardner Doesn’t Change, St. Louis Could Become the Murder Capital of the Country

Unfortunately, rather than acknowledging her mistakes and focusing on ways to combat the rising tide of violent crime in her city, Gardner seems to be doubling down on her failed, dangerous policies.

She attributes much of the opposition against her to racism and sexism. But competent, independent African American women elected district attorneys, like former Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey, have been able to succeed for years.

Results matter. Public safety matters. Any opposition to Gardner is more likely due to her abysmal track record as St. Louis’s chief prosecutor.

To be clear, any threats to Gardner, her family, her staff, or others are unacceptable and must be treated as such. Furthermore, racist or sexist attacks against Gardner or others have no place in our civil discourse. We condemn them, as we hope others do too.

Unfortunately, Gardner’s track record shows she is more interested in grabbing headlines and placating the big money backers of the national rogue prosecutor movement than in doing the in-the-trenches work of enforcing the law and fighting violent crime in her city.

Until she starts focusing more of her attention there and revises her dangerous pro-crime, anti-victim policies, St. Louis is likely to remain in contention for, or to be, the murder capital of the country.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal.