St. Louis’ first black chief prosecutor is accusing the city, the local police union and others of a “racially motivated conspiracy” to prevent her from doing her job, invoking a rarely used federal law — passed after the Civil War to weaken the Ku Klux Klan — to wage a legal battle against her opponents.
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner filed a federal lawsuit Monday outlining how she was elected in 2016 to “redress the scourge of historical inequality and rebuild trust” among communities of color. But she alleges that the city’s “unprecedented appointment” of a special prosecutor in 2018 — part of a wider investigation into then-Gov. Eric Greitens — underscores a pattern of “collusive conduct” that she believes has undermined her authority.
Decisions were made, according to the suit, “to thwart and impede her efforts to establish equal treatment under law for all St. Louis citizens at every turn; to remove her from the position to which she was duly elected — by any means necessary — and perhaps to show her successor what happens to Circuit Attorneys who dare to stand up for the equal rights of racial minorities in St. Louis.”
The suit seeks punitive damages and for a judge to stop the defendants from “violating Gardner’s civil rights.”
The city views the allegations as “meritless,” said Jacob Long, a spokesman for Mayor Lyda Krewson. He added that the city “fully expects to be vindicated once this case is adjudicated in a court of law.”
Gardner’s suit comes amid a broader backdrop of mistrust between minority groups and law enforcement — tensions that for decades have defined this blue-collar city of more than 300,000, which is split fairly evenly between black and white residents. (St. Louis has seen its black population fall in recent years, according to the most recent census data, long dragged down by the effects of racial residential segregation and higher rates of poverty and unemployment compared to whites.)
Gardner cites violations of the Constitution and the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 as the impetus behind her complaint. The anti-Klan act was part of a series of stringent federal laws used to diminish white supremacists and that codified the protection of African Americans after the Civil War and prohibited discrimination for voting and other rights.
“The Ku Klux Klan Act was adopted to address precisely this scenario: a racially motivated conspiracy to deny the civil rights of racial minorities by obstructing a government official’s efforts to ensure equal justice under law for all,” the suit says. “The stakes are high. This case cries out for federal enforcement.”
But the anti-Klan act itself is rarely used against an employer in a workplace setting, and Gardner’s application of it could prove to be an “uphill battle,” said Michael H. LeRoy, a law professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The criminal provision of the law was struck down in the 1880s, LeRoy said, while its use in civil settings has been significantly cut back and become more limited.
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“The act is meant to provide a civil remedy against racial conspiracies,” he added. “A successful plaintiff has to show that a conspiracy is based on intent to injure somebody based on his or her race. But conspiracies are hard to prove.”
The law has also been cited following the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, when alt-right and white nationalist groups faced off with counterprotesters, resulting in one death. One protester filed a lawsuit against the rally’s organizers claiming conspiratorial activity had caused violence against minorities.
The defendants in that case have argued that they are covered by the First Amendment, and a trial is scheduled for October.
LeRoy said bringing up such an arcane law dating back nearly 150 years is meaningful for today, and indicates how the “stark and overt racism of the 1860s and ’70s has reappeared.”
Gardner, in her complaint, referred to St. Louis’ “history of invidious racial animus,” and noted that while the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Department, John Hayden Jr., is African American, the top brass and the department itself remain majority white. Meanwhile, black drivers are “overrepresented” in the number of traffic stops.
She also mentioned how St. Louis was rocked last year after a national research group, the Plain View Project, released a report that studied thousands of Facebook posts from several jurisdictions around the country and found St. Louis officers among those who had apparently engaged in racist and anti-Muslim posts online.
At the time, Gardner added nearly two dozen officers to a list of those banned from bringing forth cases to her office as result of the “underlying bias” related to the posts. Two officers were subsequently fired.
Jeffrey Roorda, a business manager for the St. Louis Police Officer’s Association who is also named in Gardner’s lawsuit, slammed Gardner’s actions last year as “nothing more than a grand distraction.”
Gardner’s latest suit accuses the union of going “out of its way to support white officers accused of perpetrating acts of violence and excessive force” against black residents.
In an interview with NBC affiliate KSDK on Monday, Roorda minimized the suit as “the last act of a desperate woman.”
He again accused Gardner of trying to distract from the problems associated with her office, and said her conduct has only been an “impediment” to helping the community smooth over relations with police.
“When she got elected to office she decided that she wanted to persecute cops instead of prosecuting criminals,” Roorda added.
Gardner has attracted criticism previously. In 2018, she hired a former FBI agent, William Tisaby, instead of working with police when she began investigating Greitens, who took office as governor a year earlier. Greitens, a rising star in the Republican Party, later resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct.
St. Louis police began their own investigation into alleged perjury and evidence tampering regarding Tisaby’s probe of Greitens. The city employed a special prosecutor, Gerard Carmody, to lead its investigation, and the case is ongoing.
While Gardner has not been accused of committing any crimes related to the Tisaby investigation, she has named Carmody as a defendant in her suit and questioned his impartiality because of his lifelong friendship with the head of Greitens’ defense team.
Carmody did not return a request for comment Tuesday.
Gardner’s suit also claims the Police Officers Association has been trying to stymie any reforms she has attempted to make in St. Louis. She said she pushed for the use of independent investigations for officer-involved shootings, but her idea was defeated during an alderman committee meeting in March 2018 in large part because the union opposed it.
Jerryl Christmas, a St. Louis defense attorney and former assistant circuit attorney in the city, said Gardner’s willingness to take on powerful institutions should not be taken lightly and is “sending a message that the people will be heard.”
“Win, lose or draw,” he said, “she’s highlighted the corruptness that’s been going on in the city.”
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Trump complains about his trial defense team starting Saturday
President Donald Trump on Friday slammed Democratic House impeachment managers for perpetrating “lies, fraud and deception” and complained that his own legal defense team would have to start their arguments on Saturday — what the president said is called “Death Valley in T.V.”
“After having been treated unbelievably unfairly in the House, and then having to endure hour after hour of lies, fraud & deception by Shifty Schiff, Cryin’ Chuck Schumer & their crew, looks like my lawyers will be forced to start on Saturday, which is called Death Valley in T.V.,” tweeted Trump, a former reality television star known widely for being especially cognizant of how things play on television.
Under rules for the trial reached by the Senate earlier this week, the House impeachment managers were awarded 24 hours over three days to make their arguments to remove the president from office on charges of abuse of power and obstructing Congress. Attorneys for the White House were likewise given 24 hours over three days to state their case for acquittal.
House case managers began their case on Wednesday and are wrapping up on Friday, meaning the attorneys for the White House will begin their arguments Saturday at 10:00 a.m. ET, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, announced on the Senate floor on Friday. The Trump team’s presentation on Saturday will last for several hours, McConnell said.
Trump wants the maximum audience he can get and by having a few hours on Saturday that his team will be able to offer soundbites of their defense for the Sunday morning news shows to use, said people familiar with the process. On Monday, the president’s defense will continue.
Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow said Thursday that the president’s legal team is prepared for anything. “The senators are saying that they have the rules. Our job is to play by the rules they set,” Sekulow said.
Shannon Pettypiece, Hallie Jackson and Peter Alexander contributed.
Giuliani launches ‘common sense’ podcast, urges impeachment case be dismissed
As Democrats argued in the Senate on Friday that President Donald Trump should be removed from office, the president’s personal lawyer launched a podcast to push back against their allegations.
Rudy Giuliani, who wasn’t tapped as a member of the legal team representing the president, used his inaugural episode of his show “Rudy Giuliani Common Sense” to deliver a presentation that sounded like what he would have said at the Senate trial.
“Look at these charges. Neither one of the is a crime,” a restrained Giuliani said of the two articles of impeachment against the president for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
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“There’s no crime called abuse of power,” he said. As for obstruction of Congress, Giuliani said that charge could lead to something “silly” like the president being impeached for being late to a press conference.
He said the Trump legal team should make a motion for Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the Senate trial, to dismiss the case for failure to allege an impeachable offense.
The episode was entitled, “Since no crimes exist, it must be dismissed.”
The former New York City mayor told NBC News in a text message on Thursday that with “the second episode we will create an expose of the compelling evidence of major Democrat corruption in Ukraine.”
Giuliani’s efforts to get Ukrainian officials to dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden are a major part of the impeachment case against Trump.
The episode is on Giuliani’s new website, where the man known as “America’s Mayor” after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, is described as being “Celebrated by many as ‘Mayor of the World.'”
Giuliani promoted his podcast during an appearance on “Fox & Friends” Friday. He said his show would prove Ukraine was involved in interfering in the 2016 U.S. election and not Russia, and that Ukraine did so on behalf of Trump rival Hillary Clinton — claims that have been debunked by Trump’s own intelligence chiefs.
“What happened in Russia was a big hoax. Actually it was the Democrats projecting what they had actually done in Ukraine. I don’t know if it’s true or not,” Giuliani said, before adding, “I started investigating Biden two years ago when he was thinking about running for president. I never thought he would run. Looked to me he couldn’t cross the street much less run.”
Giuliani and Biden have bad blood that goes back to 2007, when both were running for president. Biden mocked the Republican in one of the Democratic debates, calling him “probably the most under-qualified man since George Bush to seek the presidency.”
“There only three things he mentions in a sentence: A noun and a verb and 9/11, I mean, there’s nothing else,” Biden said.
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