Gov. Mike Parson on Monday said he will ask state lawmakers meeting in a special session to give state Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office authority to intervene in homicide cases in St. Louis that he said are not being prosecuted quickly enough.
Parson’s request that Schmitt be given “concurrent” jurisdiction in some St. Louis homicide cases was widely seen as a criticism of Democratic St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, although the governor and Schmitt both insisted during a news conference the goal was to reduce a skyrocketing murder rate crime in St. Louis.
The proposal still gives Gardener “full and fair” opportunity to prosecute cases and does not allow the attorney general to supervise or replace the circuit attorney, Parson said.
“”This has nothing to do with the prosecutor, taking her out of the role of being prosecutor,” Parson said. “This is about violent criminals on the streets of St. Louis that cases haven’t been filed on … I wouldn’t know why anyone wouldn’t want you to come in and help try and take violent criminals off the street, no matter who you are.”
He said he did not discuss the proposal with Gardner before announcing it.
Gardner said in a statement that she agreed fighting violent crime, achieving justice for victims and making communities safer is a priority. She also noted that her office has an overall felony conviction rate of 97%.
“However, it is clear that this legislation is not actually about addressing crime, instead it serves as a vehicle to interfere with the clear discretion of a democratically elected local prosecutor,” she said. “This allows the Governor and his cronies to make a mockery of judicial checks and balances and demolishes any notion of a free and independent judicial system.”
Lack of evidence and a lack of community trust in law enforcement are the two main variables that prevent crimes from being prosecuted, Gardner said.
“Solving crime will take all of us working together not divisive political maneuvers such as this that are designed to usurp the will of the people,” the statement said.
Democratic House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, from Springfield, called Parson’s proposal a “political vendetta” aimed at the only Black woman prosecutor in Missouri. She noted that Gardner easily won the Democratic primary for the office last Tuesday. Gardner is heavily favored to win the general election in November in the overwhelmingly Democratic city.
“By now trying to strip her of the prosecutorial discretion and authority enjoyed by every other prosecutor in the state, the governor attacks democracy itself,” Quade said. “Lawmakers must not become co-conspirators in the governor’s politically motivated abuse of power.”
Gardner, who was first elected to the office in 2016, has drawn conservative GOP criticism — including from Parson, Schmitt and President Donald Trump — after her decision last month to charge a white couple, Mark and Patricia McCloskey, with felony unlawful use of a weapon after they pointed guns at racial inequality protesters marching past their home.
The governor has said he likely would pardon the McCloskeys if they are convicted.
Under Parson’s proposal, the attorney general would be allowed to intervene in first- and second-degree murder cases — and any connected crimes — only if the chief law enforcement officer seeks help and charges have not been filed within 90 days.
Parson said charges have been filed in only 33 of the 161 first- and second-degree homicides reported in St. Louis so far this year. He said that continues a trend, with 194 murders and 40 charges filed last year and 186 murders and 61 charges filed in 2018
Schmitt echoed Parson’s argument that the proposal was aimed only at reducing the St. Louis homicide rate, not at attacking Gardner.
“My position is that everybody ought to be working together here, that it’s all hands on deck,” Schmitt said. “There are not politics when it comes to public safety. That’s my approach.”
Parson called the special session to address violent crime, particularly in St. Louis and Kansas City. The Senate last week approved a bill that would, among other things, strengthen witness protection programs and allow judges to decide whether a child between the ages of 12 and 18 should be tried as an adult for unlawful use of weapons and armed criminal action.
The House is expected to take up the bill this week. Some lawmakers and protesters have said the proposals focus too much on punishment and do not address causes of violent crime or racial inequality in the justice system.