September 14, 2022
Jail should not be a death sentence. However, since April 2022, six people have died while detained inside St. Louis City’s Justice Center (CJC): Robert Lee Miller (April 28, 2022), Augustus Collier (July 8, 2022), a person whose street name was Nelly Boo (August 10, 2022), Donald Henry (September 3, 2022), Courtney McNeal (September 6, 2022), and one person whose name and date of death is unknown.
While the causes of death in CJC as released by the media have ranged from suicide to apparent overdose to medical emergencies, due to the lack of transparency at CJC and the ongoing nature of many of these investigations, there is currently no certainty as to how each of these six people died. The egregious number of deaths within a five-month period demands answers from CJC and government officials. When asked about the reported heinous conditions of the jail that threaten the health and safety of detainees and staff, CJC officials have purported, “the health and safety of detainees and staff remain our highest priority.” This response feels empty when contrasted with the passionate and often devastating testimonies from current and former detainees, as well as their family members, regarding their experiences within CJC. Their families deserve answers.
This summer, detainees throughout the jail reported lockdowns confining them to their cells for 23 hours a day, for months, with only one hour total to make calls, visit the commissary, shower, and complete other necessary tasks. Not only are the conditions described by detainees deplorable, but they often report that they do not have access to correctional officers when emergencies arise because the buzzers in their cells do not work. When buzzers fail, detainees knocking on doors and yelling for help also receive no response.
One person recently released from CJC described their experience as, “inhumane, in a nutshell. The intake room is about 6×8, and they’ll stuff like 15 to 20 people in there. People will be in the holding tank for weeks with the clothes they came in [with] on, with no blankets, and it’s cold. People will be sleeping on the floor. People who are addicts [and are] dope sick [will be] throwing up – [CJC doesn’t] separate them.”
There have been an overwhelming number of reports of the use of chemical weapons against detainees, including pepper spray, bear mace, and tear gas. These chemical agents are reportedly often used against people who are restrained and in such large quantities that they impact not only those directly targeted but everyone in the entire pod. On August 30, 2022, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed its concern about the use of chemical agents in U.S. jails and condemned its misuse in direct response to reports regarding the use of chemical agents at CJC.
The deaths at CJC are a product of St. Louis’ incessant jail crisis. Between lengthy jail stays that average more than a year, dependence on “no bond allowed” determinations, and the inhumane conditions at CJC, people are left in a cage to deteriorate with no hope of release. This is state-sanctioned violence.
In solidarity with those detained at the jail and the family members who have lost their loved ones, we jointly issue the following demands of Mayor Tishaura Jones, the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, Corrections Commissioner Jennifer Clemons-Abdullah, Interim Director of Public Safety Dan Isom, Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, and the Detention Facility Oversight Board:
Full Transparency on All Jail Deaths:
- We demand that the City Department of Corrections release to the public all the information pertaining to the six deaths inside of CJC in 2022.
- We demand that the Detention Facility Oversight Board immediately launch a full investigation into these deaths and any ongoing complaints made by those detained.
Release the People:
- We demand that the Department of Public Safety, the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, and the Division of Re-entry Services facilitate the release of those held on Felony D-level offenses and below; including those eligible for bail or sponsored recognizance or held on probation technical violations.
- We demand the 22nd Judicial Circuit and St. Louis City Circuit Attorney’s office increase the use of pretrial release versus “No Bond Allowed” determinations.
- We demand that all those with serious medical conditions currently held in CJC be immediately released.
Improve Conditions Immediately:
- We demand an immediate end to the use of all chemical agents against detainees.
- We demand an end of 23-hour lockdowns.
- We demand the provision of adequate safe drinking water and food for detainees.
- We demand increased medical resources to provide needed medical care to all detainees.
On Monday, September 19, 2022, Action St. Louis, ArchCity Defenders, Freedom Community Center, and the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center are planning two events to memorialize the victims, amplify the voices of impacted family members, and further publicize the demands:
- 11 a.m. Press conference and rally, located outside of the City Justice Center, 200 S. Tucker
- 4:30 p.m. Action at the Detention Facility Oversight Board meeting, at 1520 Market St.
Action St. Louis
Freedom Community Center
Metropolitan Congregations United
Missouri State Public Defender System – St. Louis City Office
Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center
Z Gorley, Communications Director, ArchCity Defenders