ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- For years, activists have called to close the city's medium security jail or the "Workhouse". Mayor Tishaura Jones has vowed the building will be closed within her first 100 days in office.
She and others recently toured the two jail facilities. Who came along with her is raising some eyebrows.
“It was absolutely disgusting, disgusting,” said Congresswoman Cori Bush.
Last month, Congresswoman Bush and Mayor Tishaura Jones railed against the deplorable conditions they said they saw inside MSI. Along side them was Kayla Reed, a respected activist with roots in Ferguson, Executive Director of Action St. Louis and a board member for ArchCity Defenders.
“I am angry because for three years we have told the city that behind these walls injustice is a regular occurrence,” Reed said at a press conference after the tour.
News 4's requests for a tour have been declined.
To see behind the walls, News 4 requested surveillance video of the jail tour, which included MSI and the Criminal Justice Center, which is the site of recent riots.
In the video, you can see the elected officials and a number of their staff members, walking the halls with their cell phones, taking pictures, inspecting the facilities, including the much-criticized locks in the Justice Center, and sitting down with detainees to hear from them directly.
“They treat us like animals,” one detainee said. But a few attendees at the tour did raise questions. Reed, for one.
“I was in total shock when I saw that on the news,” said Alderman Joe Vaccaro. Vaccaro says he wasn't invited, but the fact that a Board Member from ArchCity Defenders was, is inappropriate.
“I think bringing ArchCity Defenders in there was wrong, it's inappropriate to bring anybody suing us into a building,” he said.
ArchCity Defenders has been engaged in a lawsuit with the city for years over what they call inhumane conditions in the workhouse. They have demanded it be closed and they are asking for $10 million in damages.
“If I was suing you, would you bring me into your house? No attorney would agree that you should,” Vaccaro said.
“It is us against them, that is the nature of dispute resolution in our system,” said Attorney Elkin Kistner. Kistner, himself sometimes a litigant against the city, but not involved in this case, told News 4 it's highly unusual, if not unheard of, for a defendant in a lawsuit to just invite their opponent into a facility.
“That could give the opponent an advantage in this case that it otherwise would not have in a normal case,” Kistner said.
News 4 tried to ask if the lawsuit was compromised by the tour. We tried asking the mayor, but on three separate occasions she declined to answer our questions. We has also learned the Public Defender's Office raised issue with Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner being on the tour, writing in an email: “I think it is a very bad legal idea to have the prosecutor responsible for charging all these individuals present for any of this, as it seems like a dangerous exercise regarding due process and the fifth amendment."
Vaccaro says the issues with the jails are important ones but concerned about where detainees will be sent if MSI closes, he wants to see conditions inside for himself, before any decisions are made about closing the workhouse.
"You call an exterminator, you see some mold, you get rid of the mold, you don't sell the house," Vacarro said.
Again, that ArchCity Defenders suit is demanding ten million dollars in damages.
News 4 asked them if they would drop the suit if the workhouse closes and was told simply the lawsuit is still pending. They also said board members are not employed by them and are not part of the legal team or in any way involved in their legal work, saying no one who speaks for or represents clients at ArchCity defenders was there.