Where's Dora?

Former St. Louis corrections chief Dora Schriro has moved on to a more high-profile controversy

Neither Schriro nor Governor Napolitano could be reached for comment at press time.

Even as Schriro was defending her response to the crisis, Judge Jackson was suggesting she can't be trusted to tell the truth.

In his federal lawsuit against Schriro and other corrections officials in St. Louis, Jamar Welch sought a videotape of guards restoring order during a 2002 uprising at the city workhouse in which he suffered a concussion. Welch also wanted copies of reports from guards that detailed their use of force. In depositions, top corrections officials and rank-and-file guards testified under oath that reports had been written, then reviewed by supervisors. In subsequent sworn statements, they changed their stories, saying the reports were never prepared. Corrections officials also swore that the videotape had been lost. Schriro, according to other corrections officials who testified at an October 6 hearing, was the last person to possess the missing videotape.

In a deposition, Schriro said she remembered giving it to her secretary. But her secretary testified in October that she'd never seen the tape. A city investigator who looked into the riot testified that he repeatedly asked Schriro to give him the tape, but she never did, and that she never told him she'd given it to her secretary.

Schriro had been in hot water before. In 2002 she was suspended for two weeks after five inmates escaped from the St. Louis workhouse. After the breakout, investigators from the U.S. Department of Justice found a laundry list of lax security measures at the facility. At least two workhouse uprisings occurred under her watch. Moreover, Welch's lawsuit wasn't the first occasion that a videotape disappeared under a Schriro administration. While she was head of the Missouri Department of Corrections, it happened no fewer than three times. (For more background, see "The Case of the Vanishing Videotape," in the October 8, 2003, issue of the Riverfront Times.)

In her February 3 ruling, Jackson accepted the city's explanation that the videotape had been lost but said she could not determine whether reports had been written. Besides fibbing about the reports, officials also didn't tell the truth about efforts to locate the videotape, wrote Jackson, who noted two corrections employees, contrary to their sworn affidavits, testified that they didn't look for the videotape until after the city received a court order compelling officials to produce the evidence.

Jackson ordered the defendants to reimburse Welch's attorney for his time and expenses in seeking the reports and videotape. Citing "the demonstrated unreliability" of affidavits filed in the course of discovery, the judge also refused to consider affidavits from Schriro and five other corrections officials that had been filed in support of the city's motion to dismiss the case. And without those affidavits, Jackson wrote, the city couldn't make a case for summary judgment. (In her affidavit, Schriro says, among other things, that she didn't violate Welch's constitutional rights, that she never disregarded any risk toward him and that she never acted with "deliberate indifference" toward the staff, their training and their supervision.)

Essentially, the judge said that because corrections officials didn't tell the truth about reports and videotapes, they can't be trusted to tell the truth about other aspects of the case. Kevin Hormuth, Jamar Welch's attorney, says he'll ask that those officials, including Schriro, be prohibited from testifying at trial. If they do, Hormuth says, he'll use the faulty sworn statements to convince jurors that they're not trustworthy. Hormuth estimates his legal bill footed by taxpayers will reach about $9,000.

Michael Hughes, associate city counselor, declined to comment for this story. But in a brief filed shortly after an October hearing in which Jackson scolded assistant city counselor Thomas J. Goeddel for submitting false affidavits, Hughes and Goeddel admitted that the judge's admonishments were deserved.

"The lesson was clearly learned," the two attorneys wrote. "It will not happen again."

Patti Epler is managing editor of thePhoenix New Times, theRiverfront Times' sister paper in Arizona. Robert Nelson, a staff columnist for the Phoenix paper, also contributed to this story. To read coverage from Phoenix, direct your Web browser to www.phoenixnewtimes.com.

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