Jail Hanging Provides ACLU a Pawn In Its Spat with City

Apr 1, 2009 at 11:47 am
click to enlarge Someone's credibility hangs in the balance. Question is: Is it the city's or the ACLU's? - flickr.com/photos/sin_agua
Someone's credibility hangs in the balance. Question is: Is it the city's or the ACLU's?
The cynic in me can't help thinking that the ACLU of Eastern Missouri must be at least a little pleased that an inmate hanged himself this week at the St. Louis City Justice Center.

After all, the ACLU itself has also been on the ropes -- so to speak -- since soon after it issued a 74-page report last week lambasting conditions in the city's jails.

The ACLU's claims of mistreatment, squalor and other injustices relied heavily on interviews from six anonymous corrections officers. One of those tipsters was soon identified as Darious Young, who the corrections department previously disciplined for using excessive force and later fired in 2008 for violating department rules. City corrections' superintendent Gene Stubblefield claims that he's identified two more anonymous informants and that they, too, have been disciplined in the past for violating rules and failing to report incidents.

Now the death of David Dalton, 29, has given the ACLU new ammo in its fight with the city. Dalton hanged himself with bedsheets Monday night. Apparently he had grown despondent after learning that a plea agreement would send him back to prison for a robbery conviction. But whatever tragic realities led Dalton to kill himself, it's unlikely he intended himself to become a pawn in the ACLU's fight with the city.

Sadly, that's exactly what's happened.

Yesterday, the civil rights' agency released a statement calling on the U.S. Attorney's office or the Department of Justice to investigate whether the hanging death is part of a broader pattern at the jails.

"Given recent revelations, the St. Louis community cannot rely on an internal investigation to uncover all the facts," said ACLU's Reditt Hudson in the release issued Tuesday. "The ACLU of Eastern Missouri calls on independent authorities to investigate this death and the pattern of abuse and neglect which appears to exist in our jails."

Meanwhile, the city argues that Dalton was not on suicide watch and had been checked on minutes earlier only to be found reading a book in his cell.

What will prosecutors eventually do? The Post-Dispatch reported last week that the offices of the St. Louis Circuit Attorney and the U.S. Attorney of Eastern Missouri were looking into the claims made last week by the  ACLU. But then, those offices are required to look into all claims and complaints brought to their attention.