Troubled St. Louis City Justice Center Sees Another Death

"They won't tell us anything. I have no words left," says one oversight board member

Sep 1, 2023 at 7:02 am
File photo of City Justice Center downtown.
File photo of City Justice Center downtown.
A second inmate has died in as many weeks at the St. Louis city jail downtown.

Department of Public Safety spokesman Monte Chambers confirms that around 1 a.m. Thursday a detainee began having "a medical emergency" in the infirmary of the City Justice Center. Correctional staff called 911 and "performed assessments" until an ambulance arrived.

The ambulance took the detainee to the hospital around 1:30 a.m., and he was pronounced dead at 3:35 a.m.

The cause of the detainee's death is unknown. Sergeant Charles Wall with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department said the department's Force Investigation Unit is aiding the medical examiner in the investigation.

The death comes less than two weeks after the death of Carlton Bernard, 32, who was being held in the jail after allegedly slapping a woman in the Midtown neighborhood. Attorney Mark Pedroli is investigating that death on behalf of Bernard's family. That death came just two days before a guard at the facility was taken hostage.

"This most recent death, coming immediately after Mr. Bernard's, is yet another reminder of the importance of adequate and timely medical care and the need for stronger and empowered civilian oversight,
" Pedroli tells the RFT. "The oversight board needs resources to adequately investigate and address these systemic problems."

There have been eight deaths at the jail since the start of 2022. These most recent have come amid growing tensions between Mayor Tishaura Jones and the city's Detention Facility Oversight Board, an entity Jones herself established. The oversight board is tasked with investigating alleged misconduct at the jail, but they say they're not able to do so because of onerous training obligations being demanded by City Hall.

More recently, the board has been vocal in calling for Jones to fire Corrections Commissioner Jennifer Clemons-Abdullah, whom Jones hired to head the city's Division of Corrections in 2021. 

"They won't tell us anything. I have no words left," oversight board member Pamela Walker told the RFT via text when asked about the most recent death at the jail. "Eight deaths. Eight."

Yesterday afternoon, oversight board member Mike Milton wrote on social media: "Just got word that someone else died in the jail this morning. How many people had to die @saintlouismayor."

Late into the evening Thursday night, the Department of Public safety had released no identifying information about the deceased.

"Seems very irresponsible not to release the name," Pedroli says. "At least to eliminate all the other names of the people in custody and the concern of their families."

In a statement the RFT prior to the death Wednesday, Jones indicated she was standing by her appointee, saying, "Mayor Jones has confidence in Commissioner Clemons-Abdullah, who has overseen major projects and construction at the CJC, including fixing broken locks and upgrades across the facility. In this role, the commissioner has improved food service and expanded educational programming."

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