Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner recently sent a list of 28 officers to the St. Louis Police Department stating certain officers will not have their cases tried. She offered no reason for her demand, but some believe there may be political motivations. Her decision to single officers out will surely damage relations between the department and the prosecutor’s office and negatively impact officers faithfully carrying out their duties.
What has provoked the prosecutor’s wrath is yet to be revealed, but perhaps we can make an educated guess. Her jurisdiction’s police force has suffered a series of public relations blows, with accusations of police brutality along racial lines. It appears Gardner may be trying to engineer a softer, friendlier law enforcement image by giving the cold shoulder to those who have been accused of excessive force, whether or not those accusations are based in fact.
Good Cop or Bad Cop?
Ferguson, not far from St. Louis in Missouri, is the hometown of the “hands up, don’t shoot” lie. In that case, Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, a black man, after being pushed back into his patrol vehicle and assaulted by a much bigger Brown who was trying to get his weapon. Since the acquittal of Officer Wilson, relations between law enforcement and the African-American community have suffered.
In 2011, Officer Jason Stockley, a former St. Louis Police Department officer, shot and killed Anthony Lamar Smith after a high-speed chase. The particulars of the case did not shine a good light on the officer, but he was acquitted in 2017, shortly after which time riots ensued.
Could there be a personal element to Gardner’s list? She was left in charge of Stockley’s case, yet failed to procure a conviction.
It is normal to be embarrassed after losing a high profile case, but just because the officer’s attorney was able to present a defense and convince 12 jurors of his innocence, does not mean that 28 other officers should be targeted, especially without any reason given.
Effect on Officers
St. Louis University law professor Anders Walker has said that Gardner is not committing any crime by submitting the list, but resultant tension could strain the relationship between the police department and the circuit attorney’s office.
Police officers pursue different types of cases. Some officers become more invested for whatever reason; perhaps they have dealt with a chronic offender, or the offense committed is violent in nature. After charges are made, the case file goes to the prosecutor’s office for review. Either there is a plea deal, or the case goes to trial.
Hard work gets put into these cases with the expectation that the district attorney is going to properly prosecute the law based on the merits of the case, but when the state is picking and choosing who they will agree to cooperate with, there will be issues.
Officers who are on the list may not bother to make charges; an arrest is worthless if it there is no opportunity for sentencing. The point of bringing criminal accusations, along with supporting evidence, is to get the suspect convicted, not just a night in jail.
Gardner’s list makes any action by the blacklisted officers pointless. Why would an officer risk his or her life to hunt scofflaws and chase bad guys when the case isn’t going to be accepted?
It seems like Gardner is trying to drive down officer morale from the outside in an attempt to slow down charges. The officers who are listed make up 2.5% of the department, but nothing is stopping her from adding to this list over time.
Politics as usual
Gardner lost the highly political Jason Stockley case, which led to riots in the streets of St. Louis and the National Guard activated. In the politically charged atmosphere since President Trump won the election, it appears that ideology is always a motivator.
Gardner has not said why she chose these specific officers, leaving a lot of room for speculation. It is unknown if the 28 officers on the list were on the scene or in some way involved in the Stockley-Smith shooting, but if so that could pose an ethical problem. Are all these officers to be nudged out of the police force without being allowed due process for their supposed offences?
Attorneys get held to high ethical standards, much like police officers. Even if Gardner’s motives are pure, she has created the appearance of unethical behavior by not giving a reason for her actions. One would think if she had a credible purpose for her list, she would have said so. Instead, she has created a veil of unethical, possibly political behavior.
Increasingly, it looks as if politics have polluted law enforcement.