ST. LOUIS (AP / KMOV.com) -- A lawsuit has been filed in federal court against the City of St. Louis Monday, claiming prisoners held in the city’s Medium Security Institution (known as the Workhouse) had their civil rights violated.
ArchCity Defenders, a nonprofit legal organization, alleges the city violated the First, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments in their treatment of prisoners.
In a release, ArchCity Defenders said, “Mostly presumed innocent and awaiting trial, people held in the jail reported rats, roaches, and snakes in their cells, a violent and dangerous environment permitted and promoted by guards, difficulty breathing due to black mold, and intolerable heat and cold due to the building’s age.”
Among those filing suit was 43-year-old James Cody of Jefferson City, who was jailed for eight months this year on a probation violation. He said he often found mouse feces in cake served at the jail. Jail staff would simply scrape off the feces, he said.
Cody said he was housed in a dorm with 69 other men, all sharing a single working toilet, sink and shower. He recalled the heat of summer, when temperatures inside the jail reached 125 degrees, according to the lawsuit. The hot conditions led to July protests that resulted in city officials temporarily bringing in portable air conditioners.
“I felt like I was treated like a dog,” Cody said at a news conference before correcting himself. “Dogs get treated better, to tell you the truth.”
Another former inmate, Diedre Wortham, was arrested on a decade-old traffic ticket and spent 22 days in the jail, she said. She says that after being hospitalized for high blood pressure, she was denied medicine for a week.
Wortham said she breathed through a T-shirt because of mold in the jail, and stuffed shirts under her cell door to keep mice out.
“I didn’t think I was going to make it out of the Workhouse alive,” Wortham said.
All seven plaintiffs are black. ArchCity Defenders said in the court filing that the vast majority of inmates at the jail are black, and virtually all of them are being held awaiting trial because they can’t afford bail, mostly for non-violent crimes. A little over half of St. Louis’ residents are black.
This summer, inmates complained about the temperatures inside the building, which some say reached 120 degrees. Given the age of the building, air conditioning was non-existent, and administrators had to set up cooling stations and keep medical care on standby around the clock in case an inmate suffered heat-related complications.
Protesters gathered outside of the jail, campaigning for something to be done.
The city eventually spent $40,000 on portable air conditioning units.
The lawsuit is seeking monetary damages on behalf of the prisoners, as well as either the closing of the Workhouse or fines levied against the city until the facility meets constitutional requirements.
You can read the full suit here: