Inmates jump CO, set fires, smash windows at St. Louis jail

Officials have been contending with a locking problem that allows inmates to free themselves from their cells by tampering with the locks


By Annika Merrilees
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

ST. LOUIS — Inmates at the City Justice Center downtown smashed exterior windows and threw debris to the ground below in a disturbance that began about 2:30 a.m. Saturday after an inmate and a guard scuffled and the guard was then jumped by other inmates, authorities said.

Law enforcement officers used tear gas to regain control and a spokesman for the mayor said all the inmates were "back in custody" shortly before 10 a.m.

Inmates yell from broken windows at the St. Louis Justice Center, known as the city jail, after fires were set at the facility on Feb. 6.
Inmates yell from broken windows at the St. Louis Justice Center, known as the city jail, after fires were set at the facility on Feb. 6. (Photo/Robert Cohen of St. Louis Post-Dispatch via TNS)

Jimmie Edwards, the city's director of public safety, told reporters that the corrections officer was injured and taken to a hospital. That guard suffered bruises and contusions and was released later in the day.

No other officers and no inmates were injured, he said.

Jail officials since December have been contending with a locking problem that allows inmates to free themselves from their cells by tampering with the locks, Edwards said. The problem contributed to the mayhem that occurred early Saturday on the fourth floor of the CJC.

After the initial confrontation with the guard, about 115 inmates on the floor set fires, clogged toilets and flooded different areas of the floor, said Jacob Long, spokesman for Mayor Lyda Krewson. After authorities regained control of the floor, about 65 inmates were transferred to the St. Louis Medium Security Institution, also known as the workhouse, he said.

Inmates were seen gathered at the shattered windows of the fourth floor about 6:30 a.m. They broke adjacent windows and threw chairs and other debris to the sidewalk below on Tucker Boulevard.

Flames could be seen just inside the windows and items appeared to have been set on fire before being thrown down to the sidewalk. Firefighters and emergency vehicles were at the scene shortly before 7 a.m. Dozens of people gathered to watch from the other side of Tucker and at least one live video of the disturbance was posted to Facebook.

Long at one point called the situation a "very dangerous disturbance" and said both Krewson and Edwards were at the scene.

There were more than 630 people in custody at the jail Saturday but the disturbance involved only those on the fourth floor.

Cleanup and repair work began about 10 a.m., Long said.

There are four units on each floor. On the fourth floor, only one unit will be used for the time-being. The others will be operational again in three to four weeks, Edwards said.

It was at least the third disturbance at the CJC in recent weeks. One occurred the last week of December and a second just days later. In those cases inmates had expressed concern about unsafe conditions amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Dozens of inmates were transferred to the workhouse following those earlier disruptions.

Edwards on Saturday said he did not know what prompted the latest incident.

"This time, no reason was given," Edwards said. He said there are currently no known cases of COVID-19 among inmates at the center.

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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