Inmates at the Saint Louis County Justice Center broke windows, hurled furniture to the ground and set fires Sunday night in the latest uprising over pandemic-era conditions at the jail.
Videos and photos posted to social media show inmates hanging out of windows as a crowd gathers below to watch.
The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department had sent out an all-points bulletin at around 8:30 p.m. after inmates on the third floor of the jail had started to cover cameras, NBC affiliate KDSK reported. Shortly after, inmates started throwing things out of smashed windows. And by 9:30 p.m., smoke was billowing out of the broken windows.
An hour later, responders moved the inmates away from the broken windows and started to put out the fires, according to KDSK. But by 11 p.m., inmates moved to the other side of the third floor, broke windows there and started throwing things again.
It wasn’t until about midnight that the incident was under control and workers were able to start boarding up windows, KDSK reported.
In a statement Monday morning, Jacob Long, the director of communications for Mayor Lyda Krewson’s office, said in a statement sent to KDSK that “there were two violent and dangerous disturbances that unfolded at the City Justice Center downtown.”
“Detainees became non-compliant, covered security cameras, smashed windows, and destroyed property,” Long said, adding that there were no reports of serious injuries.
The Corrections Division, SLMPD, the sheriff’s office, and the St. Louis Fire Department responded, Long said.
Missouri House of Representatives Rep. Rasheen Aldridge. Jr. said “those in connection with the protest” had two demands: End cash bail and resume speedy and fair court hearings that have been delayed because of the pandemic.
“The detainees are being held without trial and unable to pay their bail, causing a system that disproportionately puts poor and Black people behind bars,” Aldridge said. “If we care about justice, these systems need to change.”
The crowd outside of the jail included spectators, reporters and also people joining to protest conditions at the jail. One man who took a chair that had been tossed out a window said the issues inside of the jail had been persistent and were simply boiling over.
Some protesters posed outside the jail’s doors with signs and guns, KDSK reporter Casey Nolen wrote on Twitter. After at least two hours on the scene, Nolen left after one of the people with the guns started threatening to use it.
The mayhem is the fourth disturbance caused by inmates at the jail since December, according to The Associated Press.
In early February, about 115 inmates caused what Long called “fairly extensive” damage to the building when they clogged drains and toilets, flooding the floors, and threw furniture, some of it on fire, out broken fourth floor windows.
A corrections officer was attacked and treated at a hospital for his injuries during that incident.
“I imagine they are under the same amount of stress due to COVID restrictions like the rest of us are,” Long said at the time. “Courts haven’t been hearing cases in the 22nd Judicial Circuit. Their family visits have been restricted. But also they are acting out and that is the current situation.”
A locking problem that allows inmates to free themselves from their cells by tampering with the locks played a role in the February uprising, the city’s director of public safety, Jimmie Edwards, said. The problem had persisted since December, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It’s unclear if the locking issue contributed to Sunday’s turmoil.
“There is an immediate need for change in our city’s justice system. Uprisings at our jails should not become the norm, and this is unacceptable,” Tishaura O. Jones, a mayoral candidate, wrote on Twitter Monday. “We need a clear chain of command — and the buck must stop at the Mayor’s desk. We need to get serious about moving pre-trial detainees out of our jails, vaccinating our inmates, and creating a new culture of justice in Saint Louis.”
Aldridge also said the mayor’s office was responsible for reforms.
“Here we are, less than a month since the last uprising and there have been no changes to right these significant wrongs. I look forward to working with the next administration to address the concerns of the detainees and to make the facility safe for all who are in it,” Aldridge said. “Treating people as if they don’t have inherent worth is how we end up here. Continuing to ignore the cries for help will only ensure that more riots happen.”
The Associated Press