Lawsuit claims corrections officers used mace to punish detainees inside St. Louis jail

Published: Jul. 28, 2023 at 6:53 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS (KMOV) -- In a lawsuit against St. Louis City, new videos have been released that show several inmates inside St. Louis City Criminal Justice Center being maced and pepper-sprayed, sparking criticism from advocates who claim it provides proof of inhumane treatment within the jail.

The city’s only open jail has been facing ongoing controversy, with the number of inmates inside continuing to rise, according to analysis from News 4 Investigates.

In one video from May 2021, a detainee, who appears to be seated peacefully in a cell block, was approached by several corrections officers who then maced him in the face without warning.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit, including the Arch City Defenders, released numerous videos detailing what they describe as “consistent” instances of corrections officers reflexively, and often without warning, using mace to punish detainees inside the St. Louis Criminal Justice Center.

They claim there have been 250 instances of mace or “OC” spray on detainees who are passively resistant and at least 50 instances of OC spray on detainees on suicide watch.

OC spray was even on detainees already restrained in handcuffs.

The jail has been marred by other controversies, such as a string of deaths inside, documented extensively by News 4 Investigates. Families like Courtney McNeal’s are still seeking answers about their loved ones’ deaths. Additionally, brutal fights and riots occurred inside the jail back in 2021.

Advocates have expressed concern about overcrowding and a lack of transparency from the city. The closure of the medium-security Workhouse, as promised by Mayor Tishaura Jones, led to an upward trend in the number of inmates in the Criminal Justice Center, reaching 700 this month from a low of 420 in December 2021.

Questions have been raised about the potential reopening of the Workhouse, which was showcased by News 4 Investigates in April when it was uncovered renovation work was being done. Furthermore, the city has been storing rusted-out cars and boats within the fences of the jail.

Some of the advocates now involved in the lawsuit had previously claimed inhumane conditions at the Workhouse. However, the city’s survey seeking feedback on what to do with the facility received over 450 responses and has since been closed without any announcement on its future plans.