ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) – Beating after beating; detainees at the St. Louis City Justice Center left alone for hours while guards watched from windows nearby.
Many have voiced concerns to News 4 Investigates about that video – and now some loved ones of injured detainees are threatening to sue.
There have been at least six uprisings inside the City Justice Center (CJC) in the last nine months. It is something city officials are constantly addressing, putting the blame on corrections officers, faulty locks, and all-around culture of the criminal justice system.
Major Tonya Harry said despite what it might look like on video, she stands by the response of her corrections team early Saturday morning.
“As chief of security, it pains me to even hear of anybody getting hurt,” she said. “If my staff just went in at the time, how many more people would have been injured? Staff and inmates, so we want to make sure that we go in with a calculated response so that no one else gets hurt.”
Several problems, Harry said, contributed to the riot: Faulty locks meant more detainees were out of their cells than should have been. Staff members weren't properly outfitted to intervene and due to staffing shortages, there is no special response unit scheduled for that time of day.
And the detainees, in what Harry called a hostage situation had threatened the officers, too.
St. Louis City officials are on the defense Sunday, for at least the sixth time in less than a year. This comes after another disturbance erupted Saturday morning inside the City Justice Center, leaving four inmates injured.
“From the reports that I have gathered, they said if we were to come in, we were going to get the same things,” Harry said. “They had things that could be used as weapons. So, at that time, we have to strategically ensure the safety of everyone.”
Harry said her officers gathered the names of the assailants and looked on as beating after beating occurred in the rec room. The police were assembling outside she said after they had called for the backup. Harry said the officer’s followed established protocols and policies, even trying to get one injured inmate out, but the rest rushed the door. An officer had to deploy pepper spray that also hit staff members.
The video starts routine enough. Just after 7 p.m. Friday night, a number of detainees are seen out of the cells, on what city officials say was recreation time.
Harry said there is much more that they need to ensure this never happens again.
“If we had proper manpower, the special response team, the proper equipment, even with face masks for when we do deploy the OC, to where we don’t get incapacitated. To get these locks fixed,” Harry said.