The St. Louis prosecutor spearheading the case against Mark McCloskey, one half of the husband-and-wife team who menaced Black Lives Matter protesters with weapons, has been removed from the case.
Circuit Judge Thomas Clark II on Thursday dismissed Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner and her entire staff, saying campaign fundraising emails she sent to constituents that alluded to Mark and Patricia McCloskey's case, "raise the appearance of impropriety and jeopardize the defendant's right to a fair trial," The Associated Press reported.
The ruling means Gardner can no longer oversee McCloskey's prosecution. Instead, a special prosecutor will have to be selected to take over. The decision does not apply to McCloskey's wife, Patricia, who is scheduled to appear before a different judge on Jan. 15, 2021.
The couple's defense attorneys filed the motion to disqualify Gardner in July, arguing it was an unprecedented move for a prosecutor to discuss a case in campaign materials, NBC affiliate KSDK reported. Court documents note the materials were sent out as early as three days before Gardner had filed any criminal charges against his clients.
Attorney Joel Schwartz, wrote, "The July 17th email drew a direct line from the incident, which had not yet resulted in criminal charges, to Ms. Gardner's political antagonists and from there to a call for donations to further her re-election efforts."
The McCloskeys, who are white, became a polarizing couple over the summer, when they used brandished firearms at a crowd of marching protesters; Mark McCloskey waved around an AR-15 rifle while Patricia kept her finger on the trigger of a handgun as a few hundred protesters marched toward the home of St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson.
The couple insist they believed the protesters, who they say had torn down a fence to enter the gated community, would have burned down their mansion if the two hadn't "stood their ground."
They were indicted in October on charges of unlawful use of a weapon and tampering with evidence. Both have pleaded not guilty.
The incident was captured on video and has drawn ire from Black Lives Matter supporters and praise from Second Amendment activists. It has also stoked the heated debate over the rights and protections of protesters.
Gardner, who is St. Louis' first Black circuit court attorney, says the emails referenced the McCloskey case in an effort to defend herself from backlash from conservative politicians and media.
"Kim needs your help to fight back!" one campaign email read, according to the AP. She added, she was under "national scrutiny from our divisive President, the Republican establishment of Missouri, and the right-wing media, including Fox News."
But KSDK notes that in his 22-page ruling Thursday, Clark wrote, "Ms. Gardner has every right to rebut criticism, but it appears unnecessary to stigmatize defendant – or even mention him – in campaign solicitations, especially when she purports to be responding to others.
"In fact, the case law and Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit it," Clark added.