December 21, 2020
Today in federal court, ArchCity Defenders, the Simon Law Firm, Vonne Karraker, and Vincent Colianni filed a complaint on behalf of clients Robert Hopple, Stefani Rudigier, and Shawn Mesey alleging unconstitutional, discriminatory, and dangerous conditions while detained pretrial at the St. Francois County Jail in Farmington, Missouri. The suit names St. Francois County, Sheriff Dan Bullock, Advanced Correctional Healthcare, Inc., former Jail Administrator Dennis Smith, and jail nurse Heather Smith as defendants who systematically and knowingly denied “the minimal necessities to individuals confined at the SFC jail by subjecting them to appalling and inhumane conditions.” The suit also alleges defendants were deliberately indifferent to detainees’ medical, mental health, and dental needs and discriminated against people with disabilities.
Click here to read the lawsuit.
“The conditions that our clients and several others endured while detained at the St. Francois County Jail are nothing short of cruel and inhumane,” said Corrigan Lewis, Staff Attorney at ArchCity Defenders. “It is completely inconceivable that the actions of St Francois County officials have been able to go unchecked in such a pervasive and systemic manner for so long. It is time to hold them accountable and we hope this lawsuit begins the process of justice and healing in this community.”
The complaint details how Hopple, Rudigier, and Mesey were subjected to a variety of unsanitary and unlawful conditions such as overflowing sewage, black mold, inadequate provision of medical care, inclement temperatures, overcrowding, inadequate staffing, lack of food, violence and retaliation initiated by SFC jail staff, and failure to accommodate people with disabilities while confined. Noting the systemic and widespread issues, the plaintiffs also seek class action status for the case.
During the time Mr. Hopple was detained, he recalls himself and his cellmate eating toothpaste and toilet paper to stave off hunger. In general, Mr. Hopple remarked, “the treatment of every inmate by the guards was very bad… inhumane, the way they treat you like a dog… I’ve heard it called ‘hell’ a few times. The only thing I can think to call it is ‘the worst place in the world to be.”
Ms. Rudigier was detained pretrial from March 5, 2017 to March 3, 2019, and remarked, “you are just treated absolutely terrible before you’re found guilty of anything… I just felt like I was truly fighting for my life.” Rudigier also shared, “Never in my life have I seen conditions so repulsive and treatment so inhumane, and neglectful and disrespectful. I think that entire jail should be shut down.” Among the hellish conditions Rudigier survived, she recalled the shower water being so hot that women would use it to boil noodles, make coffee, and “essentially just cook our food.”
Listen to audio clips about St. Francois County jail here.
Since 2005, 27 cases have been filed in the Eastern District of Missouri regarding allegations of physical violence, denial of medical care, lack of food, overcrowding and more. In 2017, the Department of Justice revoked a contract for SFC jail to detain people with federal charges, noting several substandard conditions.
“Nothing that has happened so far has felt like justice for the people who have been in the jail, for their loved ones, or the people on the sidelines who are appalled by the lack of accountability,” said Vonne Karraker, an attorney with Malaney, Karraker and Karraker who lives in St. Francois. “This government has spoiled the reputation of the county and it’s devastating.”
ArchCity Defenders (ACD), a holistic legal advocacy organization based in St. Louis, has previously filed lawsuits on behalf of people detained pretrial whose basic rights were violated. ACD currently has cases pending against Ferguson, Florissant, St. Ann, St. Charles County, and St. Louis City. One of the lawsuits, filed in November 2017, alleges inhumane conditions at St. Louis’ Medium Security Institution, commonly referred to as “the Workhouse.”
Following the rise of the COVID-19, ACD has advocated for those at greatest risk of serious illness or death from the virus, and specifically for those who are incarcerated. To learn more about ACD’s COVID-19 response, click here.
Z Gorley, Communications Director, ArchCity Defenders