The St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s office is sitting on over 4,000 solved cases — leaving thousands of victims and their families waiting for justice that may never come — according to a new report from local CBS affiliate KMOV.
Josephine Cotton is one such family member — she lost her eight-month-old son Jyhaad to a drug overdose while the child was in the care of another relative. She says that authorities know exactly who was responsible for her son’s tragic death, but Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner has yet to bring that person up on any charges.
“It was just heartbreaking to see my son lifeless at eight months,” Cotton told KMOV. Jyhaad’s father, Joseph Cotton, echoed her sentiments: “They need to do something.”
Cotton’s case is just one of thousands — over 4,400, to be more precise — cases that are listed in the system as “pending application of warrant,” or “PAWS.” PAWS cases are “criminal cases St. Louis police have solved, IDed a suspect, and brought to the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office (CAO) for charges.”
Prior to the start of the pandemic, police officers would go to the St. Louis City courthouse themselves to apply for those warrants — but Gardner’s office adopted an email system when COVID-19 began to spread and has not yet returned to in-person operations.
KMOV reported that a tip led them to investigate a backlog in pending cases — and Criminology Professor Richard Rosenfeld said that even in the context of the global pandemic, the number was staggering.
“It needs to be addressed immediately,” Rosenfeld told KMOV, saying that he had never seen such a failure to manage pending cases. “No justice for victims. I thought, this cannot be true. Can’t be true. There’s got to be a mistake here.”
Rosenfeld reviewed the list of pending cases — which KMOV noted would “span the length of a football field” if the pages were printed out and laid end-to-end — and said that even cursory glance showed that a number of them were serious felonies. And because no charges had been brought in even those cases, the alleged suspects had not been detained. Some of the cases date as far back as 2020.
“I don’t think the public is aware that there could be over 4,000 applications for warrants on some very serious offenses that are in legal purgatory,” Rosenfeld said.
KMOV reached out to Gardner’s office and got only a brief statement in response claiming that staff “went fully remote to protect the safety of our staff and our police partners.”
The statement also claimed that the office was working to process the low-level offenses as quickly as possible in order to focus time and resources on the more serious cases.
And while some might say that the backlog is the result of the office transitioning to remote work due to the pandemic, the problems in Gardner’s office predate all of that. In 2019, police brought over 7,000 suspects to her office seeking felony prosecutions —Gardner only took up 1,641 of those.
Why is crime proliferating, police recruitment/retention down, cop morale sinking?
👉🏼 Bail Reform and “soft-on-crime” prosecutors.
St. Louis DA Kim Gardner: “In 2019, she prosecuted only 1,641 of the 7,045 felony prosecutions sought by the St. Louis PD.” https://t.co/SyfUVg4lHC
— James A. Gagliano (@JamesAGagliano) May 12, 2022
Gardner has made news several times since she took office in 2017 over an “exclusion list” kept by her office, to which she has periodically added. That list — which is not public — now includes the names of some 75 St. Louis police officers. Officers whose names are on that list, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “cannot seek charges against people they arrest, apply for search warrants or serve as essential witnesses in criminal cases.”
And many suspected of committing crimes in St. Louis know exactly what is going on behind the scenes. KMOV reported that suspects are shrugging off arrests, telling police officers, “Oh, it’s no big deal, I will just be PAW’ed.”
“And in fact, from our review of the list, there are some people who have been arrested, released, arrested again for a different crime and released again,” KMOV reported.