June 29, 2020
ArchCity Defenders Files Wrongful Death Lawsuit on Behalf Of Mother Whose Son Died in St. Louis City’s ‘Workhouse’ Jail
(St. Louis, Mo.) — Today in federal court, ArchCity Defenders filed a lawsuit on behalf of Ms. Velma Payton, mother of Louis “Lyen” Payton, a 48-year-old man who died of an opioid overdose in St. Louis City’s Medium Security Institution, commonly known as the Workhouse. For nearly seven months, Mr. Payton had been caged pretrial in the Workhouse, unable to pay a cash bond. The suit names the City of St. Louis, Commissioner of Corrections Dale Glass, Superintendent Jeffrey Carson, and four individual correctional officers as defendants and alleges they were deliberately indifferent to Mr. Payton’s serious medical needs when they failed to provide or obtain timely medical care for him in violation of his Fourteenth Amendment rights.
“They let my brother die in the Workhouse,” said Ms. Janice Washington, sister of the late Mr. Payton. “I’m hurt and I’m still mad. Every holiday, every birthday, he’s gone and we don’t see him anymore. When they took him, they took a lot from our family.”
A video clip of the moments of Mr. Payton’s death shows Mr. Payton going unconscious, his peers coming to his aid, correctional officers ignoring their urgent pleas for help, and medical staff only arriving after Mr. Payton was unresponsive for over eight minutes.
Correctional officers only entered the room close to five minutes after Mr. Payton was clearly unresponsive. No correctional officers checked Mr. Payton’s pulse, no one provided CPR or breathing support, and no one administered naloxone, an opioid used to counter such overdoses. By the time Corizon nurses entered the room, Mr. Payton had been with little to no oxygen for close to nine minutes and was past help.
“The tragic events surrounding Mr. Payton’s death are, unfortunately, reflective of the kind of gross neglect and disregard for human suffering that have come to characterize the experience of countless individuals who have been caged in the Workhouse,” said Blake Strode, Executive Director of ArchCity Defenders. “Lyen Payton mattered a great deal to his family, to his friends, to all who loved him. And he deserved better than what he received when he was in those critical moments of greatest need. This kind of indifference to the welfare of another human being cannot be tolerated, and we are proud to represent the Payton family in their fight for justice.”
From St. Louis, Mr. Payton was a lovable father, son, and brother, and he was known for making people laugh. For nearly two years following their loss, Mr. Payton’s family has felt concerned and disregarded by the City’s lack of transparency and accountability over the reason for his death.
In this video taken in 2018 after Mr. Payton’s death, Ms. Washington shares memories of her brother, her questions surrounding his death, and her frustration with the City’s indifference and lack of transparency, a troubling reality shared by families impacted by fatal state violence.
For years, drug smuggling by staff and drug use by detainees has been a known issue and documented in news clips spanning a decade. On August 8, 2019, Christopher Brown, a 35-year-old man detained in the Workhouse, died of a reported fentanyl overdose. Mr. Brown was the eighth person to die in the Workhouse since 2009.
Historically, the Workhouse has been a source of public outcry and litigation in St. Louis. In November 2017, ArchCity Defenders filed a federal lawsuit alleging plaintiffs were detained in inhumane jail conditions and lacked access to adequate medical care. This suit is still pending.
Since 2018, a local jail closure campaign, Close the Workhouse has organized widespread support from St. Louis residents and elected officials to permanently shutter the facility. Combined with an 84% decrease in the jail’s population since late 2017, this shift has led to an active debate about whether to defund and permanently close the jail in the 2021 budget cycle. Since Mr. Payton’s death, the Payton family has actively supported the call and campaign to close the Workhouse jail.
This weekend, the Close the Workhouse campaign made national news after St. Louis City Mayor Lyda Krewson revealed the names and addresses of people attending a CtW rally who shared their views on defunding the police and Workhouse, and re-investing in basic resources to combat poverty.
Z Gorley, Communications Director, ArchCity Defenders