This story has been updated.
The St. Louis County Jail in Clayton.
A Federal Court Judge issued a blistering memorandum today against St. Louis County over how its attorneys are handling a lawsuit over a county jail detainee who died while in custody in 2015.
Judge Ronnie White called the behavior of the St. Louis County Counselors Office "at best lackadaisical and careless, and at worst unscrupulous and dishonest."
The lawsuit is being brought by Margaret Starks, the mother of Drexel Starks, who died in 2015 while in the St. Louis County Jail.
Margaret alleges her son "died of dehydration while shackled in the county’s custody."
Starks was a drug user who, after being arrested for drug possession and a parole violation, began going into withdrawals in the county jail.
The case has been working its way through the Federal Court in the Eastern District of Missouri since April 2021.
The Post-Dispatch reported
in May that the county said it had no death report related to Starks' passing. Nor did it have copies of interviews conducted by internal affairs investigating the incident.
Now, Judge White is taking the county to task.
White's complaints include the county’s legal representation not responding to motions and being "extremely late" to a conference with the judge.
The judge says the county also "stonewalled the timely progression of discovery in an apparent attempt to avoid admitting that crucial documents were missing." He wrote that a motion for judgment filed by the county "bordered on frivolity."
White wrote he is "a stroke of the pen away" from entering a default judgement in favor of Starks, and "no further delay or discovery violations will be tolerated."
Starks' attorney Mark Pedroli tells the RFT
that, per its own policy, the jail should conduct a mandatory review of any death in the jail, including Starks' in 2015.
Interviews were conducted as part of an internal investigation into Starks' death. However Pedroli alleges the jail destroyed audio of those interviews.
The lack of a medical review, he adds, is the fault of the County Department of Public Health, which at the time was headed by Faisal Khan. Khan is listed as a co-defendant in Starks' suit.
: “I am disappointed to say the least," St. Louis County Counselor Beth Orwick tells the RFT
in a statement. "I immediately assigned a new attorney to this case upon reading the court’s order and informed the court."
She adds, "This attorney is no longer employed by St. Louis County.”
The attorney in question is Daniel James. James has been a lawyer for the county for less than a year, according to his LinkedIn.