ST. LOUIS – St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner’s war of words with the St. Louis police union was featured on Sunday night’s episode of the CBS news program “60 Minutes.”
CBS correspondent Bill Whitaker spoke with Gardner and Jeff Roorda, a spokesman for the St. Louis Police Officers Association, about the rocky relationship between the city’s top prosecutor and local law enforcement.
Gardner, who was first elected in 2016 and later re-elected in 2020, said she was overwhelmingly voted into office to reform things, by dismantling and rebuilding the system.
“We as law enforcement have to hear the cries for help in the community and deliver,” she said. “And that’s why I’m not gonna back down. That’s why I’m not gonna kiss the ring of the status quo to keep it a certain way.”
To Gardner, the integrity of the entire criminal justice system is at stake.
After asking St. Louis City Hall to fund an independent office to investigate police shootings, Gardner said she made enemies fast within the law enforcement community.
Roorda said the circuit attorney wants to second guess police at every turn and that “she’s not a partner with law enforcement.”
Gardner admitted to not getting along with the police union, which she claims wrecked her plans to implement certain reforms.
“We work well with everyday police officers every day,” she said. “But what we have is the police union who basically injects fear and misinformation in the police department.”
Gardner stressed she doesn’t think all cops are problematic but the system needs to encourage the “good people” in law enforcement to speak out.
“Because silence is also complicit agreement with this type of behavior,” she said.
Roorda said most instances of deadly force by police are a response and not something law enforcement initiates.
“…it’s the aggression on the other side of that encounter that results in deadly force being used,” he said.
When pressed on the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd—in Louisville and Minneapolis, respectively—Roorda concedes that in some cases, it’s a failure of police training and policy that has led to those deaths.
Roorda said police are treated unfairly and they are simply responding to violent criminals.
“Well, we don’t shoot…we shoot back. I mean, we live in a very violent city,” he said. “And I don’t think it should surprise anybody that sometimes the police who are trying to disrupt that violence become the victim of that violence.”
In Jan. 2020, Gardner sued Roorda, the police union, and others, alleging a racist conspiracy to prevent her from doing her job. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit that September, saying Gardner’s allegations amounted to “a conglomeration of unrelated claims and conclusory statements supported by very few facts.”
During the segment, reporter Whitaker was handed a “week’s worth of hate mail” that had been delivered to Gardner’s office, directing slurs at the circuit attorney and saying she—and her family—should be killed.
“Well, you know, I signed up for this. But what frightens me is, now, it’s calls to my family, and I’m afraid that a loved one may be harmed because I took this job,” she said.
Gardner rejects the idea that she’s “the prosecutor for Black St. Louis” and said she’s there to represent and protect everyone in the city.
Alderwoman Megan Greene, a self-described progressive in city government, said her constituents in the more affluent parts of the city have voiced their concerns and complaints about police misconduct.
She said she’s one of the few reformers on the board of aldermen and that the police union targeted her politically when she questioned the department’s budget.
“It’s really difficult. They fight reform tooth and nail,” Greene said. “And the tactics used…against elected officials are designed to quell dissent. And I think that it scares a lot of folks.”
“60 Minutes” spoke with former police Sgt. Robert Ogilvie, who became disillusioned with the justice system before retiring. He scoffed at the idea Roorda supports any kind of reform within the system.
“I’d like to see him do it. I’d like to see him step up and do something. I’d like to see what his version of reform is,” he said.
Ogilvie said Roorda is part of the larger problem with the justice system.
“The police union is so out of touch with reality that listening to them is just not even productive,” Gardner said.