TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Jimmie Gardner, who was previously convicted of sexually assaulting two women in West Virginia in 1987 and was exonerated in 2016, was arrested on allegations of human trafficking, according to Tampa authorities.
Tampa police said they arrested 57-year-old Gardner, who is the brother-in-law of former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, on Friday for allegedly attempting to engage in sexual acts with a 16-year-old girl.
A release from the Tampa Police Department stated Gardner met the minor at 1:43 a.m. and invited her to his room at the Renaissance Hotel at International Plaza.
The girl accepted his invitation, and when she got there, he allegedly offered her money for sex, police said.
“The victim initially agreed but later told Gardner that she no longer wanted to engage and he became angry,” the release said. “Gardner advised the victim that she needed to leave his hotel room. The two got involved in a verbal altercation that escalated to a physical dispute after Gardner placed his hands around the victim’s neck, impeding her breathing. After the dispute, Gardner left the hotel room, and the victim called 911.”
When officers arrived, Gardner had already left the hotel, but they found the victim at the scene, according to police.
Meanwhile, police said Gardner reported to the Tampa Police District 1 Office. He was arrested on charges of human trafficking for commercial sexual activity (victim less than 18), lewd or lascivious touching of minor 16 or 17 years of age by person 24 years of age or older, and a misdemeanor count of battery.
According to the Office of the State Attorney of the 13th Judicial Circuit, Gardner was previously convicted in 1987 for the sexual assault of two women in West Virginia, but he was exonerated in 2016, 29 years later. Two years after his release, he married federal judge Leslie Abrams Gardner.
“Everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence. Our attorneys will prosecute this case as we would any other offender who is alleged to have committed these crimes. We take these charges very seriously,” State Attorney Suzy Lopez said.
Officials said Gardner, who was once drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 1984, now “works as a motivational speaker and emotional intelligence trainer for students and people who were formerly incarcerated” in Georgia.
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