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Grand jury disbands without charging Gardner

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner listens to questions from a reporter during a press conference inside Carnahan Courthouse on Thursday after a grand jury disbanded Monday evening without charging her in connection with last year's invasion-of-privacy case against former Gov. Eric Greitens.

July 11, 2019 Photo by Cristina M. Fletes, cfletes@post-dispatch.com

The expiration of Special Prosecutor Gerard Carmody’s grand jury should be welcomed by every St. Louis resident, much as we welcome the end of any hijacking. In my 20 years as a federal civil rights prosecutor and civil rights attorney, I have worked few cases as troubling as what I am witnessing in St. Louis — a farcical investigation into the elected prosecutor.

To be clear, I represent Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner in this investigation. But many, including my colleagues Dawn Parsons, a longtime former Missouri prosecutor, and Kobie Flowers, a former public defender, realize that there is something very wrong going on in St. Louis.

The thought that this sham investigation may continue without a grand jury, without any remaining legal authority, and while lining the pockets of the Carmody family shows just how much this entire matter has lacked fundamental fairness. Carmody has already exercised his authority without any public examination of his obvious conflicts of interest, and he has been permitted to work from the shadows cast by a constitutionally repugnant gag order, which thankfully expired with the grand jury.

From the beginning, this case has been about a powerful man threatening a woman. The evidence shows that that man, former Gov. Eric Greitens, threatened to destroy the woman he was having an affair with, in order to protect his political career.

Gardner’s decision to launch this investigation has been used by the St. Louis Police Officers’ Association (the Police Union) and other members of the St. Louis old-boys’ network to hijack the criminal justice system to target Gardner.

When Greitens was very credibly and publicly accused of serious wrongdoing, Gardner did not shirk her duty to investigate. For that, the ex-governor’s friends and associates threatened to “ruin” her, and this investigation has been their attempt to make good on that threat.

Gardner is living up to her promises and instituting reforms in the city’s criminal justice system — be it diversion from incarceration, bail reform initiatives or conducting full and fair investigations of allegations of police officer misconduct. This clearly hasn’t sat well with those who have held power in this city for decades.

We have learned over the last six months that the criminal justice culture in St. Louis has changed little since my former colleagues in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division wrote their report about the nearby Ferguson Police Department and Municipal Court. The special prosecutor’s unprecedented and unfair investigation and indictment has left us with scores of unanswered questions, like:

• How does a special prosecutor get assigned to investigate alleged perjury during a pretrial deposition when that charge is unprecedented in the city and when “subornation of perjury” is not even a crime in Missouri?

• How did someone as personally and professionally conflicted and unqualified as Gerard Carmody, a commercial, real estate and employment lawyer, ever get appointed special prosecutor in this case?

• How did Carmody get to name his children as assistant special prosecutors to personally profit off his investigation in clear violation of the anti-nepotism provisions of Missouri’s Constitution?

• Why does the St. Louis Police Department continue to have unrestricted access to the Circuit Attorney’s Office’s email server, which includes sensitive information about investigations into police misconduct — information that is completely irrelevant to the purported investigation?

• Why is the city counselor allowed to use his authority to use one city agency — the St. Louis Police Department — to try to destroy another, the Circuit Attorney’s Office?

• How can the St. Louis Police Department spend a year slow walking allegations that Greitens’ attorneys threatened to ruin Gardner?

In two decades, I never previously seen a case where there are almost no substantive legal opinions explaining what appear to be extralegal decisions and times when a court simply ignores other motions.

St. Louis’ first black circuit attorney has faced an unprecedented and unwarranted attack on the authority and discretion granted to her by St. Louis’s voters. This was never about investigating any real crime; it was to damage Gardner for entirely political reasons.

This nonsensical investigation has made her work much harder, but it has also shined a spotlight on just how much reform is needed. The people of St. Louis should demand answers and accountability for the questions raised by this case.

Roy Austin is a former deputy assistant to the president, a former federal deputy assistant attorney general and a former federal prosecutor.