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Government, Politics & Issues

Federal Lawsuit Alleges St. Louis Jail Correctional Officers Abused Detainees

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Inmates at the St. Louis Justice Center gather around the third-floor window on April 4. Attorneys for three current and former inmates at the St. Louis City Justice Center claim in a lawsuit that corrections officers regularly abused inmates at the center.

Attorneys claim in a lawsuit that corrections officers regularly abused three current and former inmates at the St. Louis City Justice Center.

The federal lawsuit filed Monday says City Justice Center staff violated the constitutional rights of inmates by using tear gas on them and depriving them of water. The lawsuit names St. Louis Corrections Commissioner Dale Glass, City Justice Superintendent Adrian Barnes, Lt. Javan Fowlkes, six correctional officers and the City of St. Louis as defendants.

Plaintiffs Derrick Jones, Jerome Jones and Darnell Rusan are represented by ArchCity Defenders, the St. Louis University School of Law Clinics, Rights Behind Bars and the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center.

The lawsuit alleges that the jail placed Derrick Jones in solitary confinement in mid-December and that guards used tear gas on him without provocation. It claims they did so after Jones asked to move to another cell because he thought his cellmate showed symptoms of the coronavirus.

The lawsuit also alleges that Rusan had been tear gassed at least three times since last November, including an incident in which officers slammed his head against the inside of an elevator after removing him from the shower.

“Somebody has to do something,” Rusan said in a press release. “People are going to do what you let them do and I hope that this lawsuit is an attempt to stop that.”

The suit also alleges that in February, guards placed Jerome Jones in a visiting room that was filled with pepper spray.

“If somebody breaks the rules, breaks the law, you fire them,” said Amy Breihan, co-director of Missouri’s Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center. “You don't let them continue working in your jail and harming people that are in your care and custody. There needs to be accountability for this kind of behavior.”

The lawsuit comes months after City Justice Center inmates participated in uprisings at the Justice Center, where inmates have complained about jail conditions. Glass announced earlier this month that he would resign as commissioner by the end of May.

Hear the discussion
Amy Breihan, co-director of Missouri’s Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, and the mother of a CJC detainee join St. Louis on the Air

City officials could not immediately be reached for comment. In a February letter from the city counselor's office to the inmates’ lawyers, a city lawyer said that the jail turns the water off when detainees clog toilets with clothing and that those who do so are are told when the water will be turned back on.

But Breihan said that jail personnel have long mistreated inmates and that the guards' behavior has gone unchecked. The lawsuit alleges officials have turned the jail water off as an act of retaliation.

“The accounts in the complaint detail a widespread custom and practice of excessively macing detainees, without cause without warning, without restraint and depriving them of water,” Breihan said. “That's the culture, and that is going to be something that persists as long as it's authorized or tacitly approved by supervisors and by leaders in the city and in the division of corrections.”

Jerome Jones was in custody for two years awaiting trial before being acquitted. Derrick Jones and Rusan are still in custody. Breihan said she hopes this lawsuit results in changes of conditions at the City Justice Center.

“Our hope is, of course, that we get some relief and remedy for Derrick Jones, Jerome Jones and Darnell Rusan, but also, that these practices stop in the jail so that more people aren't harmed.”

Follow Chad on Twitter: @iamcdavis

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