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St. Louis City Jails Director Under Fire, County Jail Director Leaves After Nearly $2.7 Million in Legal Payouts

by Benjamin Tschirhart

When you’re arrested in St. Louis, it doesn’t much matter whether you end up in the city’s jail or the lockup in adjacent St. Louis County; both are mired in controversy. But in a letter defending city Jail Commissioner Jennifer Clemons-Abdullah, Mayor Tishaura O. Jones (D) took up her sword on September 8, 2023– though some say she fell on it, after an indefensible streak of deaths and riots, plus a hostage crisis.

Not quite a month earlier, County Justice Services Director Scott Anders, 58, gave his 30-day notice that he would be leaving, too, after the county paid out nearly $2.7 million to settle a quartet of lawsuits stemming from jail injuries and deaths.

In the city, Mayor Jones insisted that Clemons-Abdullah’s “steady leadership” means that “she continues to have my full confidence in her current role” – perhaps leaving open a door for a job change for the jail chief. That would be welcome news for Detention Facilities Oversight Board member Pamela Walker, who said that “[a]nyone who thinks their commissioner is doing a good job after nine deaths in two years must be confused.” And that was before 44-year-old Juwan Carter died at the city Justice Center on September 30, 2023 – the third death at the jail in 40 days.

An unidentified detainee died on September 1, 2023, ten days after detainee Carlton Bernard, 30, died on August 20, 2023. Meanwhile 40 other detainees were involved in a riot on August 22, 2023, during which they took an unnamed 70-year-old guard hostage. The hostage crisis lasted about two-and-a-half hours, Clemons-Abdullah said, before it was broken up by city cops. Interviewed while wearing a bullet-proof vest, she said the detainees demanded pizza in exchange for the elderly guard.

“So the place is so dangerous she has to wear a bullet-proof vest?” Walker shot back, calling both the vest and the alleged pizza demand “theatrics to make the prisoners look more dangerous and spoiled.”

Payouts for Abuse, Neglect
in County Lockup

Not far away, at the Buzz Wesfall Justice Center in St. Louis County, Anders stepped down from the top job after the county agreed to pay $2,690,000 to settle four lawsuits filed by detainees. As PLN has reported, there was a $1.2 million payout in September 2022 to the estate of Daniel Stout, a 31-year-old who allegedly died from denied medical care just eight days after his June 2019 arrest. [See: PLN, Apr. 2023, p.62.]

In March 2021, another $225,000 was paid to former detainee Christopher Keown. He already suffered from a leg injury when he was arrested on August 26, 2017. But after a few days at the jail he had one less leg to stand on because it was allegedly mishandled during his arrest and had to be amputated.

The jailers gave him a walker – only to take it away. Although the jail had handicap-accessible showers, Keown was not allowed to use one. Instead, guards forced him to take a plastic chair into a standard jail shower, where a button must repeatedly be pressed to run the water. But the button could not be reached from a seated position, so while trying to stand in the slippery shower, Keown fell and severely injured his hip, requiring a total hip replacement. Still the County refused to give him a walker or provide him with a prosthetic leg, he said. The County admitted no liability in settling the civil rights suit he filed. Keown was represented by attorney Kevin J. Kasper of the Kasper Law Firm. See: Keown v. St. Louis Cty., USDC (E.D. Mo.), Case No. 4:20-cv-00551.

The same month, the County reached another settlement agreeing to pay $400,000 to the heirs of detainee John M. Shy, who died of an intestinal hemorrhage in July 2019 after two trips to a hospital. Shy’s mother, Kelly Lewis, was represented in her suit by attorneys Lauren Allen and Michael Sudekum, the latter with the firm of Mandel & Mandel LLP. See: Lewis v. St. Louis Cty., USDC (E.D. Mo.), Case No. 4:19-cv-02917.

A month before those settlements, in February 2021, the County reached another agreement to pay $865,000 to the widow of Larry “Jay” Reavis, 51, a former agent with the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) arrested in January 2019 for violating a restraining order she had filed. When the former Assistant Special Agent in charge of the DEA’s St. Louis division was booked into the county jail, he displayed signs of severe alcohol intoxication and was beginning to detox. Yet though he was visibly shaking and sick, neither guards nor jail nurses allegedly made any effort to render proper medical attention before he was found lying face down on the floor the next day – already cold to the touch, with rigor mortis setting in.

The nurses, all with the state Department of Public Health, reached their settlement in December 2020 for $550,000. The County then agreed to pay an additional $315,000. The payments included costs and fees for attorneys Allen and Sudekum, who represented Tamara Reavis, as well. See: Reavis v. St. Louis Cty., USDC (E.D. Mo.), Case No. 4:19-cv-02916.  

Additional Sources: KSDK, Riverfront Times, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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Related legal cases

Keown v. St. Louis Cty.

Malcich v. St. Louis Cty.