Teen athlete loses legs; St. Louis prosecutor under scrutiny
ST. LOUIS (AP) — A St. Louis prosecutor decried efforts to oust her from office Thursday and defended herself from blame after a teenage volleyball player from Tennessee lost both her legs in a vehicle crash that police say was caused by a speeding driver facing felony charges.
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, a Democrat, said her office tried three times to revoke the bond of 21-year-old Daniel Riley, a robbery suspect who had violated the conditions of his release dozens of times before the tragic crash in downtown St. Louis.
But Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey, a Republican, pinned the blame on Gardner for failing to keep Riley behind bars. He filed court documents Thursday seeking Gardner’s ouster on three grounds: failure to prosecute existing cases, failure to file charges in cases brought by police, and failure to confer with and inform victims and their families about the status of cases.
“This is about the rule of law and about justice,” Bailey told reporters at the Capitol. “Instead of protecting victims, which is her obligation, she’s creating more victims by neglect in office.”
Gardner vowed to remain in her job, accusing the attorney general of a “political stunt” to “stop the voice of the people of the city of St. Louis” who elected her.
Seventeen-year-old Janae Edmondson was walking with her family to their downtown St. Louis hotel Saturday night when she was struck. Police said Riley, who did not have a valid drivers license, sped through an intersection and collided with another car before hitting Edmondson and a parked vehicle.
The high school senior from Smyrna, Tennessee, is “stable and alert and with her family,” said Jeff Wismer, a coach at Mid-TN Volleyball Club. As of Thursday, a GoFundMe campaign on Edmondson’s behalf had raised around $400,000.
“The question needs to be, how was this young man in a car?” the coach asked. “How was this young man out of his house? How was this young man even in his home and not in prison?”
Riley was out on bond after a 2020 robbery charge that was dismissed and refiled last year. His bond violations included letting his GPS monitor die and breaking terms for his house arrest, according to court records.
Bailey’s court filing said Riley had 94 bond violations since September 2020. To support claims that Gardner has failed in her prosecutorial duties, Bailey cited more than 200 pending murder and manslaughter cases and more than 4,000 other cases awaiting her office’s review after being submitted by police.
Court officials said they didn’t know Riley had violated his bond because prosecutors never filed a motion to revoke it.
Gardner said Thursday that her office had verbally asked three times for Riley’s bond to be revoked, but a judge either denied or ignored the requests.
“While it is true my office could have done more, to say we did nothing is only disingenuous (and) is willfully ignorant of the reality of our court system,” Gardner said during a Thursday press conference interrupted by cheers from supporters.
Riley’s former attorney agrees with Gardner. In a blog post, attorney Terence Niehoff wrote that an assistant prosecutor “did bring to the Court’s attention Riley’s numerous bond violations,” but judges allowed him to remain free.
Several dozen Black leaders were present at a news conference with Gardner, who is Black. Prominent civil rights activist Zaki Baruti said the attorney general’s statement “speaks of arrogance, and it speaks of racism.”
Bailey denounced such assertions as false. Republican Gov. Mike Parson and the state’s top Republican lawmakers all expressed their support for the attorney general’s attempt to remove Gardner from office. Senate Republicans also submitted an official denouncement of Gardner and called on her to resign.
Democratic St. Louis Mayor Tishaura O. Jones said Gardner had “lost the trust of the people,” but did not call for her resignation.
Riley was jailed after the crash. A judge on Tuesday ordered him held without bond.
Attempts to oust elected officials in Missouri are rare but not unprecedented. In 2009, Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster asked a judge to remove Dent County prosecutor Jessica Sparks, a Republican. Koster alleged Sparks had failed to fulfill her duties, misused her office by accusing police of misconduct and had been involved in domestic disturbances. She resigned before a judge could rule on the ouster request.
Meanwhile, a bill advancing in the Missouri Legislature would allow Parson to appoint a special prosecutor to handle violent crimes in St. Louis, with supporters contending Gardner has not been tough enough on crime. Gardner’s supporters rallied earlier this month in Jefferson City, saying the effort to take away her power was racially motivated.
Gardner drew national attention in 2018 when she charged then-Gov. Eric Greitens with felony invasion of privacy, accusing him of taking a compromising photo of a woman during an extramarital affair. Greitens, a Republican, accused her of a political attack. The charge was later dropped. But Greitens, also under investigation by Missouri lawmakers, resigned in June 2018.
The case drew scrutiny that led to the conviction of Gardner’s investigator, and discipline for her.
In March, investigator William Tisaby pleaded guilty to misdemeanor evidence tampering. A month later, Gardner reached an agreement with the Missouri Office of Disciplinary Counsel in which she acknowledged that she failed to produce documents as part of the Greitens investigation and mistakenly maintained that all documents had been provided to Greitens’ lawyers. She received a written reprimand.
She drew the ire of St. Louis police in 2019 when she placed dozens of officers on an “exclusion list,” prohibiting them from bringing cases. The list was developed after a national group accused the officers of posting racist and anti-Muslim comments on social media.
In 2020, Gardner filed a lawsuit accusing the city, a police union and others of a coordinated and racist conspiracy aimed at forcing her out of office. The lawsuit alleged violations of the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, which was adopted to thwart efforts to deny the civil rights of racial minorities.
Lieb reported from Jefferson City, Missouri.