St. Louis prosecutor’s lawsuit: City, police union, thwarting justice

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In a rare move, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Garner has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city of St. Louis, the local police union and special prosecutors, contending they each have participated in thwarting her efforts to seek justice and equal rights for racial minorities in the city.

Gardner invoked a federal law, known as the Ku Klux Klan Act, writing in the lawsuit that the defendants’ goal is “to thwart and impede her efforts to establish equal treatment under law for all St. Louis citizens at every turn; to remove her from the position to which she was duly elected—by any means necessary—and perhaps to show her successor what happens to Circuit Attorneys who dare to stand up for the equal rights of racial minorities in St. Louis.”

In the suit, Gardner highlighted as evidence a series of troubling social media posts made by current and former St. Louis Metropolitan Police Officers that were included in a national database of law enforcement officer’s Facebook activity.

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The posts included several made by Facebook friends of the St. Louis Police Officers Association business manager Jeff Roorda, the suit states.

Gardner cited several examples in which current and former St. Louis police officers publicly posted comments that displayed bias against minority communities, cheered violence and expressed disdain for protesters.

Despite the public database, neither the union nor the city’s police department, “took any action against the vast majority of the members or officers who have made racist or offensive posts, promulgated any policies, or instituted any training or discipline to address prevalent racism within their ranks of which they were or should have been aware,” the lawsuit states.

Injustice Watch first reported on the Plain View Project database in June. At that time, Gardner announced she would add the current officers whose posts appeared in the database to an exclusion list, barring those officers from bringing cases for her office to prosecute.

City officials announced that department officers would undergo sensitivity training. More than six months later, two officers whose posts appeared in the database were fired.

Gardner’s exclusion list drew sharp criticism from Roorda.

According to the suit, Roorda said during a radio interview in 2019 that “this woman needs to go, she’s a menace to society,” in addition to calling for Gardner’s removal “by force or by choice.”

As the city’s first-ever African American elected prosecutor, Gardner said in the suit that St. Louis has a long history of racial inequality “within its police force particularly,” noting that white officers make up roughly two-thirds of the police force, though roughly half of the city’s residents are Black.

Injustice Watch in December reported on the continuing racial discipline disparities and tension within the department.

Gardner in the suit noted other troubling recent events within the department, such as when an undercover black officer was beaten by a white colleague during protests after a white officer was acquitted of murder after the on-duty shooting of a black man in September 2017.

The suit also outlines clashes between Gardner and an appointed special prosecutor that stemmed from her investigation into then-Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, who was accused of taking sexually explicit photos of a woman without her consent.

The investigation led in part to Greitens’ leaving office, and to counter-accusations about the conduct of a former FBI agent whom Gardner hired to investigate the case. In the lawsuit, Gardner said a special prosecutor appointed to review the conduct of the former FBI agent had improperly gained access to a wide range of information, including about 40 cases of alleged police misconduct that were on the Circuit Attorney’s servers.

Not mentioned in the lawsuit was the fallout after Gardner last fall filed a motion to overturn a 1995 murder conviction, based on the conclusion of her conviction integrity unit that police and prosecutors had conspired to frame an innocent man, Lamar Johnson. Johnson remains in prison; judges and the state attorney general have said that state trial courts lack the authority to review old convictions.

Roorda told Injustice Watch at the time that Gardner lacked integrity.

Neither Gardner nor Roorda responded to a request for comment Tuesday.