St. Louis’ first black chief prosecutor, Kim Gardner, says a racist conspiracy is aimed at removing her from office because of her criminal justice reform agenda — and she’s using a 149-year-old law meant to weaken the Ku Klux Klan to try to prove it.
Gardner, who was elected in 2016 as part of a wave of progressive prosecutors, filed a lawsuit Monday against St. Louis’ police union and several officials. Since she took office, Gardner has put into place a conviction integrity unit to try to put an end to wrongful convictions and gone after racism in the police force. But the police unions have consistently opposed her efforts, and she believes that she’s been the target of a politically motivated investigation. She’s arguing in her lawsuit that there’s a collusive campaign in St. Louis that wants to remove her from office.
“Gardner was elected in 2016 on a promise to redress the scourge of historical inequality and rebuild trust in the criminal justice system among communities of color,” her complaint reads. “Unfortunately, entrenched interests in St. Louis, including Defendants, have mobilized to thwart these efforts through a broad campaign of collusive conduct.”
Gardner's lawsuit, which the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports is funded by Mothers Against Police Brutality, relies on the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act, which allows the federal government to intercede when people are denied equal protections under the law. The law was also recently used to prosecute the organizers of the deadly, white supremacist–organized “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017.
The suit cites numerous instances of overt racism on the part of St. Louis police officers — including the prolific sharing of racist memes — and says the law was passed to address exactly this kind of conspiracy.
“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 reads. “The stakes are high. This case cries out for federal enforcement.”
The St. Louis Police Officers’ Association pushed back strongly on the allegations. In a statement tweeted out with the hashtag #ResignKim, the union called the lawsuit “the last act of a desperate woman” and decried her performance as district attorney.
“She’s turned murderers and other violent criminals loose to prey on St. Louis’s most vulnerable citizens and has time and time agains, falsely accused police of wrongdoing,” the statement reads. “The streets of this city have become ‘the Killing Fields,’ as a direct result of Gardner’s actions and inaction.”
Her suit is wound up with an investigation into former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens who stepped down in 2018 over allegations of sexual misconduct — which resulted in a separate investigation that led to what Gardner sees as an unconstitutional search of her offices.
As part of the investigation into Greitens, Gardner appointed a federal special prosecutor, William Tisaby, who was accused of perjury. After the investigation into Greitens was dropped, the city appointed its own special prosecutor, Gerald Carmody, to investigate Tisaby. As part of that investigation, the city requested Gardner’s files.
The lawsuit that Gardner filed on Monday alleges that the city used the perjury investigation as an “unconstitutional” excuse to ransack her office and pillage her files. Carmody, the complaint reads, was “ethically conflicted” as he’d consistently opposed Gardner politically.
That, along with several other claims, Gardner’s says amounts to a breach of her fourth and fourteenth amendment rights, as well as a violation of the Ku Klux Klan Act.
“This is about the will of the people being silenced by a concerted effort to stop reform in the city of St. Louis, and this has to be addressed,” Gardner told the Associated Press.
Emma Ockerman contributed reporting.
Cover image: St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner speaks Monday, Jan. 13, 2020, in St. Louis. Gardner on Monday filed what she called an unprecedented federal civil rights lawsuit, accusing the city, the local police union and others of a coordinated and racist conspiracy aimed at forcing her out of office. (AP Photo/Jim Salter)