St. Louis County Deceived Public About Jail Death, Lawsuit Says

The suit accuses county government of concealing key facts surrounding the death of a 31-year-old detainee

Jan 16, 2023 at 12:28 pm
A still from county jail surveillance showing Jo'Von Mitchell struggling to stand prior to his death.
Mark Pedroli
A still from county jail surveillance showing Jo'Von Mitchell struggling to stand prior to his death.

A man whose brother died in St. Louis County Jail custody in the final days of 2019 has filed a lawsuit in which he accuses jail staff of negligence and county officials of deceiving the public about the circumstances of his brother's death.

Juan Mitchell's lawsuit claims that despite the jail staff acting with "deliberate indifference" in the days leading up to the December 27, 2019, death of his brother Jo’von Mitchell, official communications from the county praised jail personnel for their handling of Jo'von's medical emergency.

In the days prior to Mitchell's death, the suit says the 31 year old had difficulty standing and suffered nausea, dizziness and an intense throbbing headache. His speech began to slur.

On December 24, three detainees told corrections officers that Mitchell was in such duress that he couldn't eat, dress himself or even stand up. A physician assistant ordered Mitchell be given an antihistamine, but the lawsuit says Mitchell was not taken to the jail's infirmary.

In the early hours of Christmas Day, after Mitchell's cellmate pleaded with staff for medical assistance, a jail nurse saw Mitchell, but he was "summarily dismissed" from the nurse's care.

Mitchell was soon seen by a second nurse, the suit says, but despite not being able to walk, he was sent back to his cell.

At a quarter after five on Christmas evening, a corrections officer discovered Mitchell passed out on his cell floor. The lawsuit accuses the officer of continuing to make his rounds, even chatting with another detainee before alerting medical personnel.

When medical personnel attempted to clear Mitchell's airway, the infirmary’s suction equipment malfunctioned. Then the nurse attempted revive Mitchell with a rebreather, but the oxygen tank it was attached to was either empty or malfunctioned, the suit says.

EMS arrived around 5:30 p.m. and Mitchell was taken to St. Mary's hospital, where he died two days later.

The lawsuit goes on to claim that press releases sent out by St. Louis County in the wake of Mitchell's death were deceitful and concealed key details about Mitchell's final hours in the jail.

One county press release "congratulated" jail staff on their treatment of Mitchell, the suit says. A press release stated that a "corrections officer observed the person becoming unconscious" and "immediately involved the jail's medical staff."

A press release sent out after Mitchell was sent to the hospital but before he died says that corrections and jail medical staff worked "cooperatively, professionally and with a sense of urgency."

However, the jail's own Internal Affairs report states that, "the officer responded without a sense of urgency to a medical emergency and falsified his report to reflect that he did."

St. Louis County spokesman Doug Moore told the RFT the county had no comment on the lawsuit.

The lawsuit suggests that the county was motivated by "intense political and media scrutiny" which the jail was under because four detainees had died in custody there in 2019 prior to Mitchell.

"The family of Mr. Mitchell seek the truth, but unfortunately too often, their own government stands in the way," Juan Mitchell's attorney, Mark Pedroli, tells the RFT.

An autopsy performed on Jo'Von found that he had suffered a stroke. Medical professionals say that when treating a stoke, a quick response is key and medication needs to be administered within a few hours of the stroke's onset.

Mitchell was in jail on a slew of charges stemming from a 2016 stand off he engaged in with police in north St. Louis County's Castle Point neighborhood.

The lawsuit was filed on Christmas Day 2022, a few days prior to the three-year anniversary of Mitchell's death.

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