Jimmie Gardner previously spent 27 years in prison for a wrongful sexual assault conviction. He was exonerated in 2016.
According to authorities, the 57-year-old made contact with a 16-year-old girl around 1:43 a.m. Friday and invited her back to his room at the Renaissance Hotel at International Plaza.
Investigators say when she arrived, Gardner offered the girl money in exchange for sexual acts.
“The victim initially agreed but later told Gardner that she no longer wanted to engage, and he became angry,” the Tampa Police Department wrote.
Gardner then reportedly told the girl she needed to leave the hotel room, which sparked a verbal argument. Police say that argument became physical when Garnder put his hands around the girl’s neck, impeding her breathing.
When Gardner left the hotel room, the girl called 911.
While police made contact with the teen at the hotel, Garnder reported to the Tampa Police District 1 Office where he was arrested and charged with:
- One felony count of human trafficking for commercial sexual activity on a victim under 18
- One felony count of lewd or lascivious touching of a minor
- One misdemeanor count of battery
The 16-year-old was connected to a Tampa Police Victim Advocate while Gardner was booked into the Orient Road Jail.
Gardner was born in South Georgia but spent most of his youth in Florida. He was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 1984.
Just a few years later, Gardner was convicted in the 1987 sexual assault of two women in West Virginia. He would go on to spend 27 years in prison for the wrongful conviction until he was exonerated in 2016.
“In the beginning I had rage. I was totally enraged. I spent the first few years in solitary confinement and I was in isolation for approximately 23 months. During those 23 months, I had to soul search. Find out who I am, what I was about,” Gardner told 10 Tampa Bay’s sister station 11 Alive in a 2020 interview.
In 2018, Gardner married Georgia Federal Judge Leslie Abrams, the sister of former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. He currently works in Georgia as a motivational speaker and emotional intelligence trainer for people who were formerly incarcerated.
“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.
Gardner is expected to make his first court appearance on Saturday.