PHOTO BY DANNY WICENTOWSKI
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner.
Over the weekend, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley attempted to elbow in on the unrest in St. Louis, sending a letter to the city's circuit attorney outlining the laws against rioting — and offering his assistance in prosecuting such cases.
But this morning, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner gave it right back to him. In a press release, the city's top prosecutor said she's sent a letter of her own, this one to Missouri's governor asking for a solution for the mess created by the influx of thousands of traffic tickets issued to St. Louis motorists by the state's highway patrol.
Why is the Missouri Highway Patrol ticketing drivers in St. Louis? The practice started in July, when Governor Eric Greitens took aim at what he called a "crime crisis" in "the most dangerous city in the United States of America."
Greitens directed state troopers to patrol along Interstates 55 and 70, apparently with the intent of reducing pressure on St. Louis cops who have more serious crimes to investigate than illegal lane-changes and speeding.
But in the meantime, the troopers have taken their new responsibilities seriously. Really, really seriously — to the tune of more than 3,500 tickets issued in the last two months, according to the Circuit Attorney's Office.
That number is even higher, according to an expose by KMOV (Channel 4)
, which reported on September 7 that troopers have issued some 4,500 tickets, in addition to 130 felony arrests, more than 630 arrests for outstanding warrants and 67 DWI arrests.
You would think all those arrests and tickets would require someone to actually, you know, process the cases. That hasn't been happening.
"We are not staffed or funded to handle the additional workload presented by the Missouri Highway Patrol," Gardner said in today's press release. "The best and most valuable use of our limited resources and manpower is to protect public safety by addressing the rising violent crime facing our community."
Gardner did say that her office "will continue to address the DWIs, outstanding misdemeanor warrants/arrests and all outstanding felony warrants/arrests" brought by the highway patrol," and she noted that AG Hawley has already offered his office's assistance on those cases.
But Gardner's press release is clearly a rebuke to Hawley over his attempt to intrude on her office's turf. The Republican Attorney General's letter to Gardner, sent the day after Jason Stockley's not-guilty verdict
sparked widespread protests around the city, pledged his office's support in handling the possible "substantial caseload" resulting from protest-related "acts of violence, assault, vandalism, riot, unlawful assembly, attacks on police officers, and interference with police officers in the discharge of their duties."
In her press release, Gardner noted that the office of the St. Louis City Counselor — which presides over municipal violations — is already handling cases of "non-violent trespass [and] non-violent civil disobedience" during protests, while Circuit Attorney's Office is "only reviewing recommended charges for people arrested for alleged illegal conduct involving violence, assaultive behavior and/or destruction of property."
The press release also pointed out that police have not referred any charges for rioting to the Circuit Attorney's Office.
Concluding the press release, Gardner said she is "confident that important conversations are occurring among citizens and city leaders that will result in reform and make our city a better place for all."
The subtext of Gardner's letter, however, isn't difficult to discern: If Hawley or the governor are so
intent on helping St. Louis, they can start by handling highway patrol's crush of traffic cases — and St. Louis can handle its protest-related arrests on its own, thank you very much.
Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at Danny.Wicentowski@RiverfrontTimes.com