A look at the candidates vying to be St. Louis' next circuit att - KMOV.com

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A look at the candidates vying to be St. Louis' next circuit attorney

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St. Louis circuit attorney's office (Credit: KMOV) St. Louis circuit attorney's office (Credit: KMOV)

ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV.com) - With Jennifer Joyce retiring, there will be a new Circuit Attorney for the first time in 16 years.  

The circuit attorney is responsible for making sure that criminals, including murderers, are convicted and sent to prison. This year there have already been 52 in the city, or about one every other day. The four candidates looking to become the next circuit attorney and make the city safer are Mary Pat Carl, Steve Harmon, Kimberly Gardner, and Patrick Hamacher.  

Hamacher is an assistant prosecutor in the circuit attorney’s office who works mostly on murder and robbery cases. He has about five years’ experience and has been endorsed by the Black Police Officer’s Union.

“Taking that smarter on crime approach means looking at people with mental health illness, drug addiction issues, veterans, some non-violent offenders and trying to figure out alternatives to incarceration,” Hamacher said.

When asked about officer-involved shootings Hamacher said, “I have worked first hand on officer-involved shooting cases. I understand the complexity that those cases take. I also am cognizant that we rely on police officers to do their jobs in order for us to do our jobs. And it’s my opinion that we should rely on a special prosecutor in these certain cases where there has been an officer involved shooting so that there is no question about the trust between the police department and our office and the community.”

Gardner, who is also a registered nurse, worked in the circuit attorney’s office as an assistant prosecutor for five years. She landed an endorsement from Congressman Lacy Clay and is the only candidate who has held public office, having served in the state legislature since 2012.

“I understand that mental illnesses play a big part at why people are going into the criminal justice system, so I would look at social type of programs as well as mental health programs and we can divert people who have these issues out of the criminal justice system,” said Gardner.

Gardner believes that everyone, including the community, should receive the respect of a third-party investigation following an officer-involved shooting.

“We’ve heard the community outcry and I believe in those cases we should have special prosecutors. I believe that is important because we need to give the community as well as everyone that’s involved in that situation the respect an independent third party,” said Gardner.

Carl has about 14 years’ experience as a prosecutor and currently works in the circuit attorney’s office as the lead homicide prosecutor.  She plans to gain more funding and use resources, like the witness protection program, as a means to convict more criminals.

“In order to prosecute a crime, we have to have witnesses come forward,” said Carl, “but right now we don’t have anything to offer that witness, we don’t have anything to offer that woman that peeked out of her window and saw a horrific incident on her street.”

When asked how she would handle officer-involved shootings Carl said, “First and foremost I am not accountable to the police. I am accountable to the public and second, I am not a politician in this race. I am a prosecutor and that means I have spent my entire career not making political decisions but seeking justice for people [and] that’s the same heart I would have when I sit in that chair as the circuit attorney. And I think that we can’t paint anything with a broad stroke. If it’s best that the prosecutor handle it that’s what I’ll do knowing that am accountable to the public. If it’s best, you know, if I have worked with the officer, you know, cause in 13 years I have in fact put a number of officers on the stand as a witnesses or formed relationships. I know that and if appropriate I would take the necessary steps.”  

Harmon considers himself an outsider because he is the only candidate that has never worked in the circuit attorney’s office.  He was been a police officer for more than 20 years and reached the rank of lieutenant. He then went on to become a prosecutor for a few years in St. Louis County.  He currently serves as an attorney for the St. Louis City Public Schools.  He believes his ability to connect with troubled youth and build GED and mentoring programs would help him to curb crime.

“When that person gets released, they walk out the door to the justice center and they go right back to the same house, the same group of friends, the same block, the same environment and do the exact same thing they did 24 hours prior,” said Harmon.

When asked how he would handle officer-involved shootings Harmon said, “I know what good policing is, I know what bad policing is, I know when a police officer does something good versus when they do something bad. So on my watch as circuit attorney, when cases come over to that office and they are reviewed I would have a different set of eyes, a different approach than any of the other candidates I have actually walked in those officers shoes, driven those cars, I have chased people down alleys, I have been involved in gun battles, I have made arrests, I have done all of that throughout my career which none of the other candidates have.”

The primary will be held August 2.

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