by Jayson Hawkins
A former guard at the St. Louis Justice Center (SLJC) was indicted by a federal grand jury on July 28, 2021, on charges that she allowed two prisoners to beat a third in March 2021. That was after she had pleaded guilty to state charges filed for the same crime—and also after she had been allowed to take two out-of-town vacations to Puerto Rico and Orlando.
Though the ex-guard, Demeria Thomas, must wear a monitoring device on her travels, the victim’s mother—who asked to remain anonymous—said she felt “appalled that (Thomas) is allowed to do whatever she desires, while my son, who is a victim, still suffers every day for something that was orchestrated by her.”
Police in the St. Louis area have been under an uncomfortable amount of scrutiny since Michael Brown was killed by Ferguson police in 2014. So the incident at SLJC will likely bring frustration to reformers and modest discomfort for law enforcement as things remain the same.
On a special wing for prisoners with mental health challenges, security cameras captured a shocking series of events on March 22, 2021. First, two prisoners approach the guard on duty, a woman identified by St. Louis police as 38-year-old Thomas. Then as the prisoners walk toward another prisoner’s cell, the video shows Thomas pressing the button that opens the cell door. As soon as it does, one of the prisoners runs into the cell and begins beating the man inside and slamming him against the wall.
Other prisoners move to stop the assault, but the video captures Thomas telling them, “Don’t run down here. Stay where you at.” Almost a minute later, she walks down the hall to the cell where the assault is happening and tells the attackers, “Come out of there.”
Police reports about the incident allege that Thomas denied the victim requested medical treatment. In fact, another two days elapsed before he was allowed to see medical staff, where it was discovered that he had a broken jaw.
SLJC is no stranger to security issues. A month before this incident, a riot occurred that was visible to the public through broken windows on the upper stories. Not long after the March attack involving Thomas, a second riot broke out on another floor. [See: PLN, July 2021, p.60]
The victim has chosen to keep his name out of the public eye, but an attorney for his family demanded action from the city.
“It’s time for the city of St. Louis to step up, take responsibility, and be accountable,” he said.
It appears the city is listening. According to an official statement from the Mayor’s office, “Ms. Thomas was officially removed from her duties as of April 5, 2021, after the investigation into her conduct as a corrections officer.”
Though her attorney initially contended that her actions “were not criminal,” Thomas later pleaded guilty to a state charge of third-degree felony assault. The two prisoners, Antonio L. Holt and Kevin J. Moore, both 39, also received the same charge.
The federal charges Thomas is still facing accuse her of allowing the beating to occur. It is unclear if the city plans to compensate the victim for his suffering.
The victim and his family have declined to comment, asking for privacy. He is represented by civil rights attorney Mark Pedroli.
Source: KSDK-TV, KTVI-TV, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
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