On Monday, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner filed what she deemed an unprecedented federal civil rights lawsuit, accusing the city, the local police union and other parties of an orchestrated and racist conspiracy aimed at forcing her out of office. On Tuesday, a group of Black prosecutors led by Baltimore State Attorney Marilyn Mosby publicly stated their support for Gardner.
Gardner, who was elected as St. Louis’ first Black circuit attorney in 2016, also accused “entrenched interests” of intentionally impeding her efforts to reform racist practices in St. Louis. According to the Associated Press, the suit lists civil rights violations and violations of the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871.
In the lawsuit, Gardner names the city of St. Louis, the St. Louis Police Officers Association and its business manager, Jeff Roorda as defendants. Gerard Carmody, a special prosecutor who indicted an investigator hired by Gardner is also named in the suit, along with his son and daughter, who helped in the investigation. A former cop who sued over Gardner’s use of private attorneys associated with Carmody’s investigation is also listed in her lawsuit.
Mosby announced her support for Gardner’s lawsuit along with other Black women attorney’s at a press conference. “Every prosecutor here has had similar experiences to Kim,” Mosby said. “We’ve lived through the personal, professional, ethical attacks on our competency and our leadership abilities and are in many cases still living through these attacks, and yet we are here to tell Kim and everyone else, we shall not only overcome, but collectively we shall prevail in reforming the criminal justice system.”
Mosby first gained national attention in 2015 when her Baltimore prosecution office indicted six police officers in the death of Freddie Gray. The 25-year-old’s 2015 death sparked national outrage and protest, and when Mosby’s office decided to indict the officers involved, she received mostly praise from the Black community. Despite the initial excitement, however, most of the officers involved were either acquitted or their charges were dropped.
In Gardner’s lawsuit, she says she was elected to make changes to St. Louis’ “long history of racial inequality and prejudice in its criminal justice system generally, and within its police force particularly.” However, the suit says others “have mobilized to thwart these efforts,” including “the unprecedented appointment of a white, ethically conflicted Special Prosecutor” in an attempt to oust Gardner.
“The Ku Klux Klan Act was adopted to address precisely this scenario: a racially motivated conspiracy to deny the civil rights of racial minorities by obstructing a government official’s efforts to ensure equal justice under law for all,” the lawsuit explains.
The suit goes on to cite a watchdog group’s report last year that pointed out several St. Louis officers accused of posting racist, prejudiced or violent messages on Facebook. Some of the posts included one in 2014 showing a Black cop standing with two Black demonstrators, calling the officer “Captain ‘Hug a Thug'” and “a disgrace to the uniform.” Another post from 2018 read, “If the Confederate flag is racist, then so is Black History Month.” Two veteran cops were fired after the Facebook posts went public.
The lawsuit also says the police union “has gone out of its way to support white officers accused of perpetrating acts of violence and excessive force against African American citizens.” It lists Roorda’s support of Darren Wilson, the cop who fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014 as an example. Wilson faced no charges after his murder. He would later resign from the police force.
Gardner’s lawsuit also cites an incident where a Black undercover officer was allegedly attacked by four white colleagues who mistook him for a protestor during a 2017 demonstration in downtown St. Louis after a white cop was acquitted of killing a Black suspect. The police union supplied lawyers for the officers involved after they were indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Gardner’s lawsuit further explains how Gerard Carmody’s appointment as special prosecutor was also concerning due to his lifelong friendship with Edward L. Dowd Jr., one of then-Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens‘ attorneys. Gardner explained that her attempts to raise conflict-of-interest concerns were ignored.
Gardner was destined to make enemies as soon as she took office. She quickly announced that she would cease prosecutions of low-level marijuana crimes. In 2018, she also created an “exclusion list” of more than two dozen cops who were barred from serving as primary witnesses in criminal cases over what Garden deemed credibility concerns. Her actions angered Police Chief John Hayden, who is also Black, and it drew strong scrutiny from many others, including Roorda, a former cop and state legislator, who is white.
Gardner probably received her most intense criticism in 2018, when she hired a private investigator, former FBI agent William Tisaby, rather than cooperate with the police to investigate claims that then-Missouri Governor Greitens took a compromising photo of a woman during an extra-marital affair. The investigation resulted in a felony invasion of privacy charge. Though Greitens’ charge was eventually dropped, the Republican governor resigned in June 2018.
At the same time, Greitens’ attorney accused Tisaby of perjury by lying during a disposition. Last June, Tisaby was indicted by Carmody for perjury, although Tisaby denied any wrongdoing and his case remains pending. The indictment put the spotlight on Gardner, who was questioned on whether she was complicit in Tisaby’s alleged crimes. However, she faces no charges and maintains that she did nothing illegal or unethical.
Meanwhile, the police union’s Roorda is calling Gardner’s civil rights lawsuit “a frantic ploy to distract the public from Gardner’s court-ordered deposition on Wednesday” related to the probe into Tisaby’s conduct.
Roy Austin, a Washington-based lawyer for Gardner, explained that her legal fees are being taken care of by Mothers Against Police Brutality, a Dallas-based non-profit founded by a woman whose son was fatally shot by Dallas cops in 2013.