May 12, 2021 20:45

Flaming mattress thrown from window as riots break out at St. Louis jail

Robert Patrick

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Inmates in at least two areas of the City Justice Center escaped their cells Sunday to break windows, shout to spectators and throw debris to the sidewalk below, in the latest uprising over conditions at the St. Louis Justice Center.

Inmates broke through the windows on the northwest corner of the third floor of the jail, below windows that were boarded up from the last riot in February. They threw furniture, a computer, toilet paper and their own clothing to the street below, and started a fire on the exterior of the building. Some chanted “We want court dates,” a reference to delays in court appearances and trials caused by the pandemic.

About 50 to 75 supporters on the sidewalk below were protesting what they called “inhumane conditions” at the jail.

At about 10:15 p.m., the inmates disappeared from the window, with Sheriff’s deputies in riot gear appearing a short time later.

Police had established a perimeter about a block away to keep more onlookers from gathering, but just watched the crowd in front of the jail from afar.

Just before 11 p.m., cheers erupted from the spectators as broken glass announced a second incident — this time in the southwest corner of the third floor.

Inmates again threw objects to the street, including a large plastic chair that was immediately commandeered by a man who sat in the street to watch the action.

But this time the inmates were coughing, apparently from mace, with one repeatedly saying, “I can’t breathe” and complaining of health problems.

They also lowered a rope made of bed sheets that had been tied together, but no one risked a climb down. After about 30 minutes, the inmates disappeared again, and police or deputies in riot gear appeared.

The uprising comes after a similar incident in February when about 115 inmates took control of the fourth floor of the City Justice Center, where they set fires, clogged toilets, flooded parts of the floor and caused other damage, officials said at the time.

Inmates and lawyers said some of the concerns were related to inadequate coronavirus precautions and other conditions at the jail.

Officials acknowledged after February’s riot that they’d struggled to deal with faulty cell door locks. An inmate told the Post-Dispatch that the faulty locks were well known to inmates but rarely taken advantage of.

It wasn’t immediately clear what prompted Sunday’s uprising or how it happened.


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