News & Politics

St. Louis Prosecutor Will No Longer Accept Cases from 28 Police Officers on 'Exclusion List'

St. Louis Prosecutor Will No Longer Accept Cases from 28 Police Officers on 'Exclusion List'
K-9 and their police officer handlers from around the state line up to pay their final respects at the funeral of fallen Wayne State University Police officer Collin Rose held at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in St. Clair Shores Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016. (Tanya Moutzalias /The Ann Arbor News via AP)

In a highly unusual move, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner has created an “exclusion list” of 28 police officers from whom she will no longer accept cases for prosecution.

The move is not unprecedented, but has created confusion in the police department.

Police Chief John Hayden issued a statement to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, confirming that the police division “did receive an exclusion list created by the Circuit Attorney’s Office.”

“While we are seeking legal guidance on how this affects the police division, we have also taken steps to notify each of the involved employees,” Hayden said. “At this time, we are considering how best to proceed and what if any actions to take. Any further inquiries should be directed to the Circuit Attorney’s Office.”

But Gardner isn’t talking yet.

A hint of what this means in practical terms was given by Gardner’s Chief Warrant Officer Chris Hinckley in an email obtained by the paper, which states that “warrant applications involving officers (sic) as essential witnesses will be refused if their participation is essential to the successful prosecution of the case. Cases previously issued where the above officers are essential witnesses will be reviewed for viability.”

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports:

Gardner’s predecessor, Jennifer Joyce, refused to take cases from a handful of officers in the past when their credibility had been questioned.

Two prosecutors in in St. Clair County have barred evidence from certain police officers.

In 2015, St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly announced he would no longer accept cases from any Brooklyn police officer. At a press conference announcing his decision, he said he made his decision in “solemnity and sadness,” but that officers had botched investigations, mishandled evidence and were reckless with firearms.

In 2009, then St. Clair County State’s Attorney Bob Haida announced he would no longer use 15 East St. Louis police officers as “essential witnesses” in felony cases. He listed his reasons for doing so in each of the letters to the affected officers. Some officers were convicted of crimes and Haida banned others for their conduct during investigations.

So there may be many reasons why the 28 officers are on the prosecutor’s blacklist. St. Louis University law professor Anders Walker says that it is within Gardner’s power to make the exclusion list. “She may jeopardize her relationship with the police department,” Walker said. “And it could be a problem politically if the voters of St. Louis don’t agree. It could be a positive, if she has singled out officers she thinks cannot be trusted and is proven correct.”

But what if police get gun-shy about investigating certain crimes? The danger here is that police will react to over-eager prosecutors who go after law enforcement officers for perceived wrongdoingas they did in Baltimore and Chicago: the cops may refuse to go out of their way to investigate street crime, leading to fewer arrests and prosecutions.

We’ll update this post when Ms. Gardner explains her reasons for the exclusion list.