(AP) — A judge disqualified the St. Louis prosecutor and her office on Thursday from the case involving Mark McCloskey, who along with his wife pointed guns at racial injustice protesters marching on the private street near their home in June.
Circuit Judge Thomas Clark II dismissed Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, citing two campaign fundraising emails around the time she filed felony gun charges against the couple in July.
“In short, the Circuit Attorney’s conduct raises the appearance that she initiated a criminal prosecution for political purposes,” Clark wrote.
The order applies only to Mark McCloskey and not his wife, Patricia, who faces the same charges. Attorneys for the couple are expected to ask that the ruling apply to Patricia McCloskey’s case, too.
“Prosecutors are held to a higher standard legally, ethically and politically,” Al Watkins, an attorney for the couple, said in a text. “When you swing and miss on all three you have to hit the lockers.”
Gardner’s office said in a statement that it will “review the court order and determine our options.” The statement said the office had not been notified of the decision but had learned of it from media reports.
The order will mean that a special prosecutor will be assigned. It’s unclear when that will occur, or who it will be.
The McCloskeys, who are both lawyers in their early 60s, were indicted by a St. Louis grand jury in October on charges of unlawful use of a weapon and tampering with evidence. Their next court appearance is scheduled for January.
Gardner originally filed the weapons charge in July. The grand jury added the evidence tampering charge. The indictment states that a semiautomatic pistol was altered in a way that “obstructed the prosecution of Patricia McCloskey” on the weapons charge.
Another attorney for the McCloskeys, Joel Schwartz, sought Gardner’s removal, citing ads in her successful Democratic primary campaign in August in which she referenced the case. Gardner, St. Louis’ first Black circuit attorney, won re-election in November.
The McCloskeys were celebrated in conservative circles but criticized by others for the incident, which happened amid nationwide protests that followed George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis as a police officer knelt on his neck. The McCloskeys spoke on video during the Republican National Convention and garnered support from President Donald Trump and other leading Republicans. Gov. Mike Parson, also a Republican, vowed to pardon them if they are convicted.
“Kim needs your help to fight back!” one of her campaign emails read, noting she was under “national scrutiny from our divisive President, the Republican establishment of Missouri, and the right-wing media, including Fox News.”
The incident happened when a few hundred people were marching to the home of Mayor Lyda Krewson on June 28. En route, they ventured onto the private street that is home to the McCloskeys’ million-dollar mansion. The couple said the demonstrators had broken through an iron gate and ignored a “No Trespassing” sign.
Protest leaders said that they had notd damage the gate and that the march had been peaceful. The McCloskeys said they had felt threatened.
Mark McCloskey emerged from his home armed with an AR-15 rifle, and Patricia McCloskey came out with a semiautomatic handgun. It wasn’t immediately clear if that gun was the same one that was the subject of the evidence tampering charge.
Cellphone video captured the confrontation between the McCloskeys and the protesters.
Gardner said the display of guns had risked bloodshed. A police probable cause statement said protesters had feared “being injured due to Patricia McCloskey’s finger being on the trigger, coupled with her excited demeanor.”