This story was sponsored in part by a Fund for Investigative Journalism grant.
Edward was already in crisis this spring when he was attacked by two inmates in his cell at the City Justice Center.
Locked up since the summer of 2020 for alleged assaults on police officers during a mental-health episode, he had spent the better part of a year in the downtown St. Louis jail, and he was deteriorating, according to his mother. In the month leading up to his March 22 beating, he'd subsisted on ramen from the commissary, forgoing entirely the meals served to him for fear the food was poisoned. He refused to let his mother come visit him, afraid that she'd put herself in harm's way by setting foot in the CJC. The acute paranoia was a symptom of his mental illness, which various doctors have diagnosed as schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder, according to his mother.
Though Edward was in the section of the jail for inmates with mental-health needs, everything about his environment exacerbated his underlying mental illness. His phone calls home had gotten shorter and shorter. He asked his mother why he was locked up and when he could go home. He did not understand why he was incarcerated, she says.
And while many of his fears were rooted in delusion, he faced real, physical danger in the CJC. (The RFT is using "Edward" in place of his real name, because his mother worries for his safety.) The jail, billed as the more modern and safer of two city-owned facilities, has been overrun with problems, punctuated by overdoses, allegations of retaliation by guards and fiery revolts. Mayor Tishaura Jones toured the jail shortly after taking office and said she was "disappointed, shocked and frustrated" by what she saw.
In that environment, Edward was an easy target.
A few minutes after 10 p.m. on March 22, Edward's cell door suddenly opened. A barrel-chested detainee named Antonio Holt entered and began beating Edward, striking his neck and face, pushing Edward's head back against the wall. The beating was captured on security camera footage from two angles. A few seconds into the attack, Edward appears to fall over the cell's toilet. Holt pummels him while he's down, picks him up and slams him against the wall. About 30 seconds later, another inmate, Kevin Moore, enters Edward's cell and joins in the assault. Edward falls into the middle of his cell, and the two men kick him as he lays on the ground.
The gruesome security camera footage made the news both in St. Louis and in places as far away as Finland. Just as shocking as what happened in the cell was the behavior of Corrections Officer Demeria Thomas outside of it. In the moments before the attack, she is seen chatting with Holt and Moore at her guard station. Authorities say she pressed a button to open Edward's door and watched as Holt walked into the cell and began punching the smaller man. At one point, another inmate ran toward the fight, but Thomas yelled for him to stop and stay where he was.
"The video in my opinion shows not only a single act of incredible violence, orchestrated by a CO; it is a reflection of the culture of the jail," says Mark Pedroli, a civil rights lawyer who has been in contact with Edward's family and expects to bring a suit against the city on his behalf in the coming weeks. "This isn't a one-off incident, but represents a pattern of behavior that has gone ignored by supervisors."
Holt, the first man who appears to assault Edward in the footage, wound up in the City Justice Center after being arrested five times in three months in late 2020 and early 2021. Three of the arrests were for criminal property damage, the other two for an assortment of charges including burglary and tampering with a motor vehicle. He is now facing an additional felony assault charge for the jailhouse attack.
The other alleged assailant, Moore, was being held on a series of felony charges related to a 2019 robbery at Behrmann's Tavern in south city. A security camera video of that incident had gone viral thanks to footage showing an unfazed bar patron smoking a cigarette and nonchalantly rebuffing Moore from his bar stool, even as Moore pointed a gun at him and other customers hit the floor. The patron was later dubbed "the world's chillest man," and Moore was arrested within 24 hours. He eventually pleaded guilty to federal robbery and firearms charges but remains in the CJC on an assault charge for his alleged involvement in the attack on Edward.
In addition to Moore and Holt, the corrections officer, Thomas, has also been charged with felony assault and is accused of facilitating the attack.
A full minute into the beating of Edward, Thomas walks toward his open cell door and slowly puts an end to the attack. "He's dead," someone yells. On his way out, Moore calls Edward a "bitch."
In the minutes after, Thomas calmly returns to her guard station and acts as if nothing has happened, even as wails of agony from Edward's cell ring out through the housing unit. She never reported the attack, and Edward was only able to get medical attention after another staff member saw his bruised and bloodied face.
Edward suffered a concussion and severe injuries to his neck and face. His jaw could not open and he didn't receive medical care until three days later, when he was taken to the emergency room. There, his mother says, a doctor simply touched his cheek and pronounced that it had healed.