Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Lawsuit Accuses Guards in Jail Fights; City Pledges Thorough Investigation, but Inmates Want $150 Million

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Lawsuit Accuses Guards in Jail Fights; City Pledges Thorough Investigation, but Inmates Want $150 Million

Article excerpt

ST. LOUIS - Guards in the St. Louis "workhouse" forced prisoners into "gladiator-style combat," bet on the fights and used inmate attackers to provide discipline or amusement, according to a federal lawsuit filed here Friday.

Seven inmates are demanding $150 million in damages from guards, officials and the Medium Security Institution, the formal name for the city's jail at 7600 Hall Street. The suit seeks class action status to represent others, who lawyers say have been victims of years of similar abuse.

One attack, recorded by a surveillance camera, led to filing of criminal charges against two corrections officers in June.

Guards sometimes used promises of special privileges - such as extra food or snacks - to enlist an attack, said Ryan Smith, one of the lawyers representing inmates. Other times, according to the suit and lawyers, an inmate was himself threatened with attack by fellow prisoners or guards unless he agreed to fight.

Smith said guards sometimes bet on the outcomes.

"This is no different than ... dogfighting," Smith said, "except this time, we're dealing with human lives."

Lawyer Paul Sims said one of his clients suffered a broken jaw. Another had blood in his urine. Both allegedly were denied medical care. Sims said most of the attacks took place in isolation cells.

Smith said one of his clients was on suicide watch and "naked and helpless" when an attacker was let into his cell.

Sam Dotson, a police captain working as Mayor Francis Slay's director of operations, said the incident caught on video was reported to police by jail staff. He said the guards involved were immediately placed on leave and criminally charged.

Dotson, who had not yet seen the civil suit, told a reporter the city is continuing to investigate. Whatever is found, he pledged, "we're going to expose it ... and bring it to the proper authorities."

Responding to the claims of gladiator-style fighting, Dotson said, "I haven't seen anything that shows that it was an organized event."

The recorded incident occurred May 24, according to court documents. The guards facing charges are Elvis Maurice Howard, 32, of the 5400 block of Partridge Avenue, and Dexter Brinson, 45, of the 4900 block of Northland Place. They are charged with first- degree burglary, third-degree assault and obstructing government operations.

There is no dispute among officials or inmates' lawyers that a jail staffer was watching surveillance video when he spotted the attack and reported it.

Charging documents claim that inmate Derrick Rodgers was sitting in his cell when the door suddenly opened and Thaddeus Dumas entered. The door was locked behind Dumas, and he began punching Rodgers. The attack lasted about a minute, and when Dumas was let out, the recording shows that his shirt was torn down the middle, according to charging documents. …

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