ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com/AP) -- Inmates at a St. Louis jail set fires, caused flooding, broke out fourth-floor windows and tossed a stationary bike, chairs and mattresses outside Saturday in the latest disturbance over concerns about the coronavirus pandemic and restrictions that have limited visits and stalled court proceedings, officials said.

Crews arrived to the building located in the 2000 block of South Tucker Boulevard near Clark Ave for a report of a fire around 5:45 a.m. A News 4 crew saw a group of inmates setting flammable items, such as sheets, on fire from the upper floor of the north side of the building and throwing them out of a broken window. Several chairs, containers, and other debris could be seen from the street.

Dozens of law enforcement officers worked for hours before bringing the riot at the St. Louis City Justice Center under control shortly before 10 a.m., a spokesman for Mayor Lyda Krewson, Jacob Long, said. About 115 inmates were involved.

Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards said it started when a detainee became defiant around 2:30 a.m. That detainee then got into a fight with a corrections officer before others joined in the beating of the officer on the fourth floor. Some detainees were able to jimmy the locks to their cell, even though the system indicated they are locked. 

Edwards said more detainees were able to get out of their cells which allowed them to enter the hallways. During the press conference, he said has been "very, very concerned about the lock situation."

Firefighters and police were called to the St. Louis City Justice Center after detainees were seen setting fires from inside the building Saturday morning.

"When the building was built, it was built with these medium security locks that have the ability to be manipulated and compromised," he added.

Once the area was cleared, about 55 inmates were moved to a more secure area. Edwards said 65 detainees were moved to the Medium Security Institution, also known as the Workhouse. No hostages were taken and no demands were made. 

"Everyone housed at the Justice Center is held there for serious offenses, Edwards says. The security guard who was assaulted was taken to a hospital. Currently, nobody is in danger,"  the public safety director said.

Edwards dispelled claims that the disturbance took place because of COVID-19 cases. He added that there are no active COVID-19 cases at the Justice Center. Since late December, this is the third time that authorities were called to assist with a disturbance at the center.

St. Louis Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards speaks about the 'dangerous disturbance' that happened at the Justice Center Saturday morning.

Mayoral candidate, Treasurer Tishaura Jones released the following statement about the incident:

The incident this morning at the City Justice Center (CJC) is an indictment of our entire criminal justice system -- a system that has inhumanely housed inmates and prisoners in the midst of a global pandemic without the necessary supplies to keep themselves safe. The criminal justice system, as we know it, does not value the lives of the people it is responsible for housing. We must imagine a new way forward -- equipped with new strategies, dedicated resources to keeping people out of the justice system, and compassionate leadership. Antiquated tactics of arresting and incarcerating our way to safer neighborhoods and communities do not work. We must invest in our people, our neighborhoods, and in a new, sustainable path forward. We’re not a poor city; we’re a cheap city. We’ve refused to invest in the things that keep our people safe. We spend over $250 million per year on public safety, and the people who staff the jails are the least paid and worst trained. There isn’t a magic solution. It’s not a plane. It’s not a camera. There isn’t an easy way to do this. We have to do the hard work. Simply put, the current system does nothing to keep us safe. As Mayor, I will put the ‘public’ back in public safety to ensure that we have a community first approach.

City Comptroller Darlene Green also released a statement:

Saturday’s protest at the City Justice Center was shocking. I call for a full and thorough investigation into what led to the disturbance; and an immediate course of action to improve security at CJC.

Something is terribly wrong when we have multiple incidents in just a few weeks. Additionally, we owe all people held in custody humane treatment and proper protective equipment in this pandemic environment.

Congresswoman Cori Bush demanded transparency in a statement:

I am calling for complete transparency and accountability from the city of St. Louis. Officials must publicly disclose the city’s COVID-19 testing protocols, case rate and hospitalization data, vaccination plans, use of solitary confinement, and transfer procedures for its local jails. Additionally, following two previous uprisings at CJC, our community needs information about any actions taken to address concerns raised by people in detention, some of whom are simply being held because they cannot afford bail.

Copyright 2021 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved

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