Federal lawsuit comes three weeks after Mayor’s office denies any concerns with the jail
Today in federal court, ArchCity Defenders (ACD), Saint Louis University (SLU) School of Law Legal Clinics, the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center, and Rights Behind Bars filed a lawsuit on behalf of Anthony Tillman, a 39-year-old man with paraplegia who is detained at the St. Louis City Justice Center. The lawsuit alleges that the City has violated Mr. Tillman’s rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to provide him access to a shower that accommodates his disability.
Mr. Tillman has been detained at the City Justice Center (CJC) since October 5, 2020. During his entire time behind bars, 155 days and counting, the City has denied him access to a wheel-chair accessible shower. Rather than providing a wheelchair-accessible shower, the CJC provided him a wash basin and rag to bathe. But because of his physical disability, Mr. Tillman is unable to reach and fully wash his body. Mr. Tillman is requesting a Temporary Restraining Order, requiring the City to provide him with an accessible shower, as well as monetary damages due to emotional distress, pain, and suffering.
“I just want to be treated fair, like how everyone else is supposed to be treated. I am disabled and I want to be accommodated. I’m speaking out and telling my story because if someone else who is paraplegic finds themself in the same situation, they should not have to experience what I’ve experienced,” said Anthony Tillman, the lead plaintiff.
Audio of Mr. Tillman speaking about his experience (with captions) is accessible here.
“We met Mr. Tillman through ACD’s jail hotline, which was set up in 2020 to learn about jail conditions from people incarcerated and their loved ones on the outside,” said Emanuel Powell, a Skadden Fellow and Staff Attorney with ArchCity Defenders. “Mr. Tillman has been senselessly and repeatedly discriminated against while being detained pretrial in a jail that’s faced national scrutiny in recent weeks. Our hope is that this case sheds light on the injustices happening in our local jails and catalyzes the changes needed.”
“The City created the need for this lawsuit,” said MacArthur Co-Director Amy Breihan. “They denied Mr. Tillman his most fundamental needs, refused to accommodate his disability, and repeatedly ignored his requests for help. This lawsuit should be a wakeup call to the City that it needs to stop ignoring the needs and voices of the people it incarcerates.”
“The violations of Mr. Tillman’s rights, and the rights of other individuals detained at the CJC, do not require a task force to uncover,” said Brendan Roediger, Professor and Director of the Civil Litigation Clinic at SLU. “They are apparent to anyone who cares to look and they must be remedied immediately.”
This lawsuit is the latest in a series of legal advocacy efforts to confront the inhumanity and unlawful abuses inflicted upon detainees at the two jails in St. Louis City: CJC and the Workhouse.
Since late December 2020, ACD staff monitoring the organization’s toll-free “jail hotline” have received hundreds of calls and had over 160 conversations with individuals detained at CJC and the Workhouse and their loved ones. Callers have repeatedly reported various inhumane conditions such as inclement temperatures, violence and retaliation from jail guards, lack of food, water, and medical care, as well as the absence of COVID-safe protocols in both jails.
An audio playlist of these accounts may be found via ACD’s SoundCloud channel here.
In February, following the third protest over conditions at CJC- ACD, MacArthur Justice Center, the Missouri State Public Defender Office, and the ACLU of Missouri, sent a letter to St. Louis City officials, requesting a tour of CJC and interviews with people detained there. The City responded by denying detainees first hand accounts, dismissing the concerns of family members, and rejecting the organizations’ requests.
“This is a matter of health and dignity for our client.” said Oren Nimni, Litigation Director at Rights Behind Bars. “Many of the people incarcerated by our criminal legal system have disabilities that they must manage while inside. The prisons and jails are required to accommodate their needs, but instead people find that even access to basic necessities requires a protracted fight. This must change,” Nimni added.
ArchCity and co-counsel have requested March 11, 2021 at 9:00 AM for the hearing. More information will be provided once the hearing date is confirmed and if the TRO hearing is open to the public.
Z. Gorley, Communications Director, ArchCity Defenders