Gardner’s replacement says he’s been ‘enforcing the laws’ in first 6 months

FILE - Gabe Gore speaks during a news conference, May 19, 2023, at the Carnahan Courthouse in St. Louis. Gore said Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023 that in the six months since his appointment to replace Kim Gardner, prosecutions have risen 45% compared to the same six-month period from last year. Gore was appointed after Gardner resigned in May amid heavy criticism that included concerns about a backlog of cases and a failure to prosecute some homicide cases. (David Carson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP, File)
FILE - Gabe Gore speaks during a news conference, May 19, 2023, at the Carnahan Courthouse in St. Louis. Gore said Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023 that in the six months since his appointment to replace Kim Gardner, prosecutions have risen 45% compared to the same six-month period from last year. Gore was appointed after Gardner resigned in May amid heavy criticism that included concerns about a backlog of cases and a failure to prosecute some homicide cases. (David Carson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP, File)

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Prosecution of violent crime in St. Louis has risen sharply in the six months since an embattled progressive prosecutor was replaced by an appointed circuit attorney, according to the prosecutor's office.

Gabe Gore said Tuesday his office has prosecuted 45 percent more cases than in the same six-month period of 2022, when Kim Gardner was the city's top prosecutor. Gore, speaking at a news conference, said his office also has made a dent in a backlog of pending criminal cases by resolving about 2,500 of them -- mostly violent crimes in a city with one of the highest homicide rates in the nation.

"There's no type of crime that we are looking the other way on," Gore said. "We are enforcing the laws. We don't accept the notion that as a citizen of the city of St. Louis you have to accept a certain amount of property crime, or what people would refer to as petty crime, as a cost of living in the city."

Gore, a Democrat, was appointed by Republican Gov. Mike Parson in May following Gardner's resignation. Her turbulent tenure included prosecution of a sitting Republican governor, frequent run-ins with police, and criticism from Missouri Republican leaders over a backlog of cases and a high number of cases where those convicted of violent crimes were not penalized with more jail time.

The new top prosecutor said he has hired 24 attorneys to fill assistant prosecutor positions that were vacant. He's also secured working relationships with private lawyers and the U.S. Attorney's Office in St. Louis to help prosecute homicide cases.

But he acknowledged that more work remains. Gore inherited 250 homicide cases. Fifty-three have been resolved, but charges have been made in 37 new homicide cases since he took office. Meanwhile, his office is reevaluating 24 killings that Gardner's office did not charge "but that the homicide division believes have merit," Gore said.

At the time of his appointment, Gore faced a backlog of 6,700 pending cases. That number has been reduced to around 4,200. He said violent crimes were dealt with first. The remaining cases -- misdemeanors and low-level felonies -- are expected to be resolved by the end of March.

The Rev. Darryl Gray, a leading civil rights activist who also chairs a civilian-led jail oversight board, said St. Louis needs to focus on preventing crime before it happens, not what happens after. He said that since Gore took office, the city jail has reached capacity. More than 90 percent of the jail's 750-plus detainees are young Black men, Gray said.

"We still have crime," Gray said. "And until Gabe Gore and elected officials begin to talk about prevention, all we're going to have are full jails."

Gore said he has hired a director of community engagement and appointed a former judge to lead a new conviction integrity unit to examine possible cases of wrongful convictions. Three convictions are currently being evaluated, Gore said.

Gardner, a Democrat, became the city's first Black circuit attorney after her election in 2016. She was part of a movement of progressive prosecutors around the country who sought diversion programs including mental health treatment or drug abuse treatment for low-level crimes, pledged to hold police more accountable, and proactively sought to free inmates who were wrongfully convicted.

Republican Attorney General Andrew Bailey filed a lawsuit in February seeking Gardner's ouster on three grounds: failure to prosecute existing cases; failure to file charges in cases brought by police; and failure to confer with and inform victims and their families about the status of cases.

Gardner said Bailey's attack on her was politically and racially motivated.

Public opinion turned against Gardner in February after 17-year-old Janae Edmondson, a volleyball player from Tennessee, was struck by a speeding car after a tournament in downtown St. Louis. She survived but lost both legs.

The driver, 21-year-old Daniel Riley, was out on bond on a robbery charge despite nearly 100 bond violations including letting the battery of his GPS monitor die and breaking the terms of his house arrest. Critics questioned why Riley was free despite so many bond violations.

Gardner first drew the ire of Republicans in 2018 when she charged then-Gov. Eric Greitens, a Republican, with felony invasion of privacy, but the charge was eventually dropped and Greitens resigned later that year.

The Greitens case drew scrutiny that led to the conviction of Gardner's investigator. Gardner received a written reprimand for failing to produce documents and saying incorrectly that all documents had been provided to Greitens' lawyers.

In 2019, Gardner announced an "exclusion list" of police officers prohibited from bringing cases to her office. The nearly 60 officers were accused of posting racist and anti-Muslim comments on social media.

Gore said he is still deciding if he will run in the 2024 election to keep his job. He offered no timetable for making that decision.