ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) — Firefighters and police were called to the St. Louis City Justice Center after detainees were seen setting fires from inside the building Saturday morning.
Crews arrived to the building located in the 2000 block of South Tucker Boulevard near Clark Ave for a report of a fire around 5:45 a.m. A News 4 crew saw a group of inmates setting flammable items, such as sheets, on fire from the upper floor of the north side of the building and throwing them out of a broken window. Several chairs, containers, and other debris could be seen from the street.
“We do have an ongoing and very dangerous disturbance at CJC right now,” Director of Communications for St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson Jacob Long said. “The situation is isolated to one area in the jail on the fourth floor. There is no risk for escape.”
Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards said it started when a detainee became defiant around 2:30 a.m. That detainee then got into a fight with a corrections officer before others joined in the beating of the officer on the fourth floor. Some detainees were able to jimmy the locks to their cell, even though the system indicated they are locked.
Edwards said more detainees were able to get out of their cells which allowed them to enter the hallways. During the press conference, he said has been “very, very concerned about the lock situation.”
“When the building was built, it was built with these medium secuirty locks that have the ability to be manipuated and compromised,” he added.
Once the area was cleared, about 55 inmates were moved to a more secure area. Edwards said 65 detainees were moved to the Medium Security Institution, also known as the Workhouse. No hostages were taken and no demands were made. Edwards says tear gas was deployed.
“Everyone housed at the Justice Center is held there for serious offenses, Edwards says. The security guard who was assaulted was taken to a hospital. Currently, nobody is in danger,” the public safety director said.
Edwards dispelled claims that the disturbance took place because of COVID-19 cases. He added that there are no active COVID-19 cases at the Justice Center. Since late December, this is the third time that authorities were called to assist with a disturbance at the center.
Mayoral candidate, Treasurer Tishaura Jones released the following statement about the incident:
The incident this morning at the City Justice Center (CJC) is an indictment of our entire criminal justice system — a system that has inhumanely housed inmates and prisoners in the midst of a global pandemic without the necessary supplies to keep themselves safe. The criminal justice system, as we know it, does not value the lives of the people it is responsible for housing. We must imagine a new way forward — equipped with new strategies, dedicated resources to keeping people out of the justice system, and compassionate leadership. Antiquated tactics of arresting and incarcerating our way to safer neighborhoods and communities do not work. We must invest in our people, our neighborhoods, and in a new, sustainable path forward. We’re not a poor city; we’re a cheap city. We’ve refused to invest in the things that keep our people safe. We spend over $250 million per year on public safety, and the people who staff the jails are the least paid and worst trained. There isn’t a magic solution. It’s not a plane. It’s not a camera. There isn’t an easy way to do this. We have to do the hard work. Simply put, the current system does nothing to keep us safe. As Mayor, I will put the ‘public’ back in public safety to ensure that we have a community first approach.
City Comptroller Darlene Green also released a statement:
Saturday’s protest at the City Justice Center was shocking. I call for a full and thorough investigation into what led to the disturbance; and an immediate course of action to improve security at CJC.
Something is terribly wrong when we have multiple incidents in just a few weeks. Additionally, we owe all people held in custody humane treatment and proper protective equipment in this pandemic environment.