The move gives the Attorney General’s Office the power to prosecute certain homicides in St. Louis: if a case is at least 90 days old, the chief law enforcement officer makes the request, and the circuit attorney has not yet filed charges.
“Despite increasing murders in the city, fewer charges have been filed in the past three years, creating a significant backlog of cases,” Parson told reporters at the Capitol Monday. “Legislative measures must be taken to further address violent crime in Missouri and protect our citizens. Today, I am expanding the call of special session on violent crime to include a new provision to assist with the growing backlog of murder cases in St. Louis.”
Parson insisted the expansion wasn’t to strip Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, who has been at odds with Missouri Republicans of late, of her powers. He said she “still has full and fair opportunity to prosecute murders” and insisted local control could still be found with the judges and jurors who are involved with the cases.
“I want to be clear: This is not about taking away authority. It is about fighting violent crime, giving justice for victims, and making our communities safer.”
Attorney General Eric Schmitt called the move an “all hands on deck” approach.
Parson said 2020 was on track to be the deadliest year on record for the city, saying there was a total of 186 homicides in 2018 and 194 in 2019, compared to 161 for this year as of Sunday.
Only 33 homicide cases have been charged so far this year, according to the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. In comparison, 40 out of 194 murders were charged in 2019, and 61 out of 186 were charged in 2018, according to the Governor’s Office.
Parson’s decision received immediate pushback from Democrats who accused the Republican chief executive of political retaliation against Gardner.
In an exclusive comment to The Missouri Times, Sen. Karla May responded: “Regardless of our differences on the effectiveness of policy, we will stand united on the Senate floor. The only way it will pass is if they are willing to PQ for the governor. We always stick together. I expect all Dems to help filibuster. If they want concurrent jurisdiction, then let’s see what it looks like in Mississippi County.”
“St. Louis voters overwhelmingly re-elected St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner just last week,” House Minority Leader Rep. Crystal Quade said in a statement. “By now trying to strip her of the prosecutorial discretion and authority enjoyed by every other prosecutor in the state, the governor attacks democracy itself. Lawmakers must not become co-conspirators in the governor’s politically motivated abuse of power.”
SB 1, which has driven the special session, passed out of the upper chamber on Friday with only three Democrats voting against the measure: May, Jamilah Nasheed, and Brian Williams. All three represent the St. Louis area.
Championed by outgoing Sen. Doug Libla, the bill includes an end to residency requirements for St. Louis police officers and other public safety personnel, certification to try certain juveniles as adults, witness statement admissibility, creation of a pre-trial witness protection fund, modification of the offense of endangering a child, and an increased penalty for illegally transferring a firearm to a minor.
The bill was addressed by the House Judiciary Committee Monday afternoon. Ten witnesses testified in favor of the bill, including St. Louis Director of Public Safety Jimmie Edwards and St. Louis Police Chief Col. John Hayden. Eight witnesses testified against the bill, including Sara Baker of the Missouri ACLU and Sharon Jones of the NAACP.
A House Rules Committee slated to tackle the bill was moved from Monday to Wednesday afternoon.