When voters back in 1988 elected Democrat Peggy Workman to the state Supreme Court – making her the first woman elected to statewide office in West Virginia – many of them likely were thinking a woman in such a powerful position would bring good for women as a whole.
On the court, Workman became an advocate for those who suffered beatings at the hands of husbands and others.
“In her capacity as Chief Justice, she fostered a close working relationship between the court system and domestic violence programs,” reads her official bio on courtswv.gov, “and she visited many shelters to learn how the court system could be more effective in addressing domestic violence.”
But we’ve seen another side of Workman and her approach to domestic violence following the arrest of her son, 27-year-old Edward Gardner, in the vicious beating earlier this month of his older sister in Kanawha City.
A week ago, the Kanawha County Prosecutor’s Office released a news release explaining that charges against Gardner had been dropped. He’d been facing a felony charge of malicious wounding.
According to the prosecutor’s office, nearly every aspect of the account originally given to police was wrong.
Lindsay Gardner, 30, wasn’t kicked in the head by her brother three times. He didn’t try to kill her. She wasn’t left abandoned, bleeding, in a ditch until an ambulance arrived.
The criminal complaint, written by police and filed in Kanawha Magistrate Court, laid out what happened this way, according to an Aug. 20 story in The Charleston Gazette:
“Witnesses said they heard a man screaming and a woman crying before Edward Gardner allegedly began beating his sister alongside the road earlier this month.”
The article goes on: “Edward Gardner kicked his sister’s head against the pavement three times, police said at the time. When police and paramedics arrived, Lindsay Gardner was bleeding from her head. She was taken to CAMC General Hospital, where she was in serious condition after the incident, police said.”
The Gazette filed a Freedom of Information Request to get the original police report. The document details that a man called Kanawha County Metro 911 to say: “Somebody just beat somebody up … she says her brother beat her up and she was laying in the ditch when we found her.”
Unfortunately for reporters in Charleston, the man’s name is redacted from the copy of the 911 report so he cannot be contacted to elaborate.
But in the original report, the caller tells a dispatcher that the woman’s mother is trying to take her to the hospital. Dispatchers asked the caller to tell the woman not to move her and that paramedics are on the way.
“Her head is pretty bad,” the caller tells the dispatcher, according to the Gazette. “You’re definitely going to need an ambulance, for sure. Can y’all get here as soon as possible? She’s in pretty bad shape.”
In the initial version of events, Edward Gardner followed his sister, “said he was going to kill her,” punched her and threw her to the ground, investigators said at the time, according to the Gazette.
Then Edward Gardner “used his foot and stomped her head onto the roadway three times,” the Gazette reported.
The three people who found Lindsay Gardner told police they heard her say her brother kicked her in the head three times and that he tried to kill her, the Gazette said.
The police report also says Lindsay Gardner made an “utterance” to a doctor that her brother had kicked her three times, according to the Gazette story.
According to the criminal complaint, Lindsay Gardner’s preliminary diagnosis indicated she suffered a concussion, laceration to the scalp and a possible skull fracture, the Gazette story notes.
Also from the Gazette: The first officer on the scene wrote in his report he found Lindsay Gardner lying on her back with blood covering her face. He said he tried to get a statement from her, but she refused. She also refused to let police take pictures of her head at the scene, according to the police report.
She was taken to Charleston Area Medical Center’s General Hospital and spent some time in the Intensive Care Unit. She wasn’t released until sometime over the weekend, according to the Gazette.
But the prosecutor’s office now says that’s all incorrect. What actually happened on Aug. 5 was all Lindsay Gardener’s fault, Charles Miller, chief of staff for the Kanawha County Prosecutor’s Office, explained to the Charleston Daily Mail.
The siblings had been planning to meet, but a mixup occurred and when Edward Gardner arrived at their mother’s Quarry Creek Road home around 9:45 p.m. that Tuesday, an angry Lindsay Gardner “confronted” her brother, Miller told the Mail.
“He pushed her away, and that’s when she stumbled and fell,” Miller said. Miller said Lindsay Gardner hit her head when she fell and may have suffered a concussion because she “lost consciousness for some time.”
The Gazette story says: “According to Miller, though, Lindsay Gardner later said she tried to strike her brother. He pushed her out of his face and she fell back and hit her head on the pavement, the prosecutor said.”
No evidence of any injury consistent with being kicked exists, Miller told the Gazette. Miller said Lindsay Gardner’s medical records didn’t show she suffered an attack and that she later told police that it was “simply an unfortunate accident,” the Gazette story stated.
According to the prosecutor’s office report, she started to attack her brother and he shoved her “in defense.”
“Ms. Gardner, confused and somewhat addled, made the statement that her brother kicked her in the head,” Miller told reporters. “There’s nothing that indicates that she was kicked at all.”
But the police are standing by their report.
Police also say that when Edward Gardner was booked the following day – he’d left the scene where his sister lay injured before authorities arrived – they noticed a “brownish/red stain” on the bottom of one of Edward Gardner’s shoes and took a sample for DNA comparison.
Miller said the news release was needed to clear the name of Edward Gardner, who was set to begin medical school this month.
No one outside the Workman-Gardner family may know exactly what happened, but we know that Gardner expects to be treated differently because of who his mother is.
Gardner was arrested July 9 in Nitro and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol and possession of marijuana. He’d been pulled over after allegedly nearly hit a parked car while speeding through town, according to multiple news accounts. He’s set to appear in Kanawha Magistrate Court on those charges on Sept. 30.
In that incident, Edward Gardner reportedly became combative at the police station and kept telling officers he was the son of a Supreme Court justice, according to a July 17 story in the Gazette.
In our justice system, the mere appearance of special treatment is a problem.
In 2008, then-Chief Justice Elliott “Spike” Maynard disqualified himself from taking part in a case involving a powerful coal executive after photographs of the two meeting in Monte Carlo became public.
At the time, he gave this statement: “I have no doubt in my own mind and firmly believe I have been and would be fair and impartial in this case. The mere appearance of impropriety, regardless of whether it is supported by fact, can compromise the public confidence in the courts. For that reason — and that reason alone — I will recuse myself.”
If Workman cared about the cloud she’s created over her office, she could resign.
Another good outcome would be for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to order a probe into whether Workman tried to interfere with the police investigation and efforts to prosecute her son and whether she exerted influence on her daughter to tell something other than the complete truth.
If Tomblin doesn’t see the need to look into this ugly case, then justice-minded West Virginia voters should show Workman the door should she choose to run for another 12-year term.
However it happens, we’re looking forward to the day when Edward Gardener, should he again find himself charged with a crime, learns the phrase “My mother used to be a state Supreme Court justice” doesn’t get him far.
– Christine Snyder is the news editor of
the Spirit of Jefferson