St. Louis prosecutor chided by Trump wins primary race

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FILE - In a Monday, Jan. 13, 2020 file photo, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner speaks in St. Louis. Gardner is being challenged in the Aug. 4, 2020, Democratic primary by Mary Pat Carl. (AP Photo/Jim Salter, File)

ST. LOUIS – St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, whose job performance has been lauded by some civil rights activists and criticized by President Donald Trump and other leading Republicans, held off a challenge from a former homicide prosecutor in Tuesday’s primary election.

Gardner, 44, defeated Mary Pat Carl in the Democratic primary. She’ll be heavily favored in November against Republican Daniel Zdrodowski since St. Louis voters are overwhelmingly Democratic.

Gardner said her victory is “about people who sent a message that they want reform in the city of St. Louis.”

Gardner has shaken up the St. Louis criminal justice establishment since she was elected in 2016, becoming the city’s first Black circuit attorney. She initiated reforms that have included using diversion programs instead of incarceration, stopped prosecuting low-level marijuana crimes and drew the ire of police leaders when she developed an “exclusion list” of officers who can’t serve as primary witnesses because of unspecified credibility concerns.

But it was her decision to file charges in two high-profile cases that drew the scorn of conservatives.

In 2018, Gardner charged then-Gov. Eric Greitens, a Republican, with felony invasion of privacy. The charge accused Greitens of taking a compromising photo of a woman during an extramarital affair and threatening to post it if she spoke of their relationship.

Greitens admitted to the affair but denied that he committed a crime. The charge was later dropped. But Greitens, who also was facing unrelated ethics complaints, resigned in June 2018.

Gardner again received national attention last month when she charged a white couple, Mark and Patricia McCloskey, with felony unlawful use of a weapon for displaying guns when protesters marched near their home.

Several hundred demonstrators were marching to the home of Mayor Lyda Krewson on June 28 when they veered onto a private street where the McCloskeys lived. He came out with a semi-automatic rifle and she had a semi-automatic handgun, according to a probable cause statement.

Gardner said the display of weapons during an otherwise peaceful protest risked bloodshed. The McCloskeys said they felt threatened.

Trump was critical of Gardner on Twitter and in interviews. Republican Gov. Mike Parson said he’ll likely pardon the couple if they’re convicted. Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri asked the U.S. Department of Justice to launch an investigation of Gardner. Republican Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt asked a judge to throw out the charges.

“Over the last four years we’ve experienced some consistent attacks, but in the last two months, they’ve reached unprecedented levels, especially as those who are not from Saint Louis turned their eyes on me," Gardner said in a statement.

St. Louis has one of the nation’s highest murder rates, and homicides are up again this year. Critics have accused Gardner of wasting time and money on high-profile cases rather than doing more to put killers behind bars.

Despite the criticism, Gardner has had plenty of support, too. The city’s Black community in particular has lauded her reforms and her willingness to take on police, who they believe have, for years, unfairly targeted Black residents.

Gardner has long contended she’s the victim of race-based attacks. In January, she filed a federal lawsuit accusing the city government, along with the biggest police union and others of a coordinated and racist conspiracy aimed at forcing her out of office. The lawsuit also accused “entrenched interests” of intentionally impeding her efforts to change racist practices.

Carl, 43, also lost to Gardner in the 2016 Democratic primary. She was the city’s lead homicide prosecutor at the time, and continued in that role for the first 10 months of Gardner’s tenure before resigning. She had pledged a stronger focus on violent crime.