Archive for October, 2017

St. Louis prosecutor joins war on cops

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The Unablogger

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner (D) wants to control all investigations of police “use of force” incidents, including officer involved shootings. Her proposal would seize these proceedings from the Police Department’s existing Force Investigation Unit, and she has requested $1.3 million of scarce city funds from the Board of Aldermen to set up her own shop to go after cops.

Riding a wave of discontent following a not guilty verdict in the bench trial of Jason Stockley, an officer charged with first-degree murder in the death of an African American alleged heroine dealer, Gardner claims that people — “especially people of color” — feel that the current system is rigged against them. The current system involves investigation and discipline by the police department and, in this case, trial on criminal charges in which the charged officer has the same rights as any other criminal defendant. Stockley’s exercise of his right to waive trial by jury and be tried instead by a circuit judge is the focus of public protests that have lasted three weeks and counting.

Gardner wants to provide what she calls “unbiased” investigations that “promote confidence in the criminal justice system.” She believes that the Force Investigation Unit cannot be trusted because that is just police passing judgment on their own “brothers.” That’s a fair criticism. Yet, the St. Louis Police Officers Association opposed its initial creation, fearing that investigators who were out of touch with real-life police work would be second-guessing  officers’ split-second decisions in the field. The SLPOA now favors the Unit’s continuation, facing the prospect of Gardner’s draconian proposal.

Gardner’s investigations would be anything but “unbiased.” I wrote shortly after Gardner’s election (actually her primary victory that left her unopposed in the general election) that she appeared to be a protege of Marilyn Mosby, the controversial cop-hating Baltimore state’s attorney. Gardner’s election had been opposed by both the predominantly white SLPOA and the predominantly black Ethical Society of Police. I observed then that Gardner owes her office to the black community and owes law enforcement nothing but payback. Within the past week, Gardner told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that she had been entrusted by residents to hold police accountable, especially in officer-involved shootings. However, it is clear from the ongoing protests of the Stockley verdict that the only acceptable form of police accountability is finding the charged officer guilty. Gardner even publicly belittled a charged officer’s constitutional privilege against self-incrimination, stating, “If you’re telling the truth, you have nothing to fear.” Such a statement about any other criminal defendant could result in professional discipline, and should in these cases as well. With that mindset and mission statement, Gardner’s office’s investigation would have an anti-police bias from start to finish. Gardner would provide revenge, not justice.

Gardner’s proposal would empower her investigators to guide all witness interviews and the collection of evidence. That often determines the outcome of the case. Tea Partiers recall how the office of St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch (D) insured that the brutal attackers of vendor Kenneth Gladney outside a Russ Carnahan town hall in 2010 would walk scot-free by not calling (or even interviewing) key witnesses.

There is more to this issue than just giving Gardner a pile of money. The Post Dispatch reports that Alderman Terry Kennedy, chair of the aldermanic public safety committee and a Gardner ally, has suggested that creating a team giving Gardner the authority over police shooting investigations would probably require a new ordinance or even a charter amendment requiring a city-wide vote of the people.

Gardner’s proposal is just the latest hit on police morale. Mayor Lyda Krewson (D), perhaps intimidated by protesters who had earlier stormed her home with bricks and red paint, called out police for chanting the protesters’ own chant ‘Whose streets? Our streets!” while arresting protesters for vandalism on the third night of protests. Police stress, she said, was no excuse. She also dressed down her interim police chief for saying that police had “owned the night,” claiming that it was inflammatory. The mayor had little or no criticism of the vandalism itself.

Police perform a great public service that is both difficult and dangerous, but their actions are not beyond scrutiny. They need to be held accountable, just like the rest of us, but not by the star chamber Gardner envisions. A truly unbiased (or balanced bias) investigation of alleged police misconduct would include representation from both police and a cross section of the citizenry. Existing civilian review boards could either perform the function or serve as a model for a separate investigative unit. The only proper role of the prosecutor would be to prosecute any offenses documented by the independent investigation.

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