By Julian Verdon
ST. FRANCOIS COUNTY, MO – Pretrial detainees at Missouri’s St. Francois County Jail must endure terrible living conditions, including extreme temperatures, inadequate medical care, unsafe sanitary conditions, and retaliation by jail deputies, according to a lawsuit filed against the facility.
ArchCity Defenders filed the class-action – the complaint alleges that the defendants (jail staff) deliberately did not accommodate the detainees’ needs, denied them essential necessities, and made living conditions unbearable.
“The pretrial detainees have not been convicted of any crime and are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Because pretrial detainees have not been convicted, they cannot be punished or subjected to conditions that amount to cruel and unusual punishment either.
“Pretrial detainee jail conditions that amount to punishment of any kind are unconstitutional as they violate the detainees’ due process rights,” argues the ArchCity Defenders complaint.
Jail staff, the pleading notes, gave Robert Hopple, one of the plaintiffs in the case, a urine-soaked ragged when he arrived at the jail. He shared his cell with 10 other men, which made sleeping conditions so cramped some of the men slept standing up.
Initially, as the pleading explains, Hopple could not shower for the first two weeks because the jail did not provide him with a hygiene pack. After receiving one, he still could not shower because the water was scalding hot. When Hopple and other detainees requested the jail address the hot water issue, the deputies made it so cold no one could bathe.
Hopple and other inmates faced a variety of other sanitary challenges as well.
“The unsanitary conditions at the jail further complicated Mr. Hopple’s ability to maintain adequate hygiene. Mr. Hopple saw thick black mold and slime on the walls and floors of the showers. The toilets would regularly overflow, and there was a lingering smell of sewage,” read the complaint.
Detainees who suffered from disabilities also faced a wide array of mistreatment from jail staff. Hopple recounts deputies would switch the lights on and off to signal to the inmates that they needed to exit their cell. Blind detainees could not understand when this occurred, so deputies would often storm into the cell to mace them.
“The deputies used so much mace on the individual that he and the other detainees in the surrounding cells had trouble breathing,” details the complaint.
Hopple and other detainees said they found it difficult to get assistance when it came to their medical needs. There was one emergency call button in the common area for detainees to request immediate medical help.
However, individual cells did not possess emergency call buttons and detainees and, if locked down, they would have to bang on their cell doors to get the deputies’ or nurse’s attention. Hopple said he saw a man attempt suicide with a makeshift rope made from a blanket. When he attempted to hang himself by jumping off a railing with the rope tied to it, Hopple pressed the emergency button.
Deputies initially told Hopple not to press the button. He continued to press until they finally responded, and he informed them that a man attempted to hang himself. Seven to eight minutes later, deputies finally arrived and ordered the other detainees into their cells.
The suit alleges that several minutes later, they got a wheelchair and wheeled the man out of the area. One of the deputies allegedly made fun of the man for not knowing how to tie a proper knot.
Hopple said he never saw that detainee again.
Another plaintiff, Stefani Rudigier, first told the facility that her mental illness required routine, prescribed medication. “A jail employee then escorted her to a holding cell where Ms. Rudigier did not receive her medication for approximately three to four days while in that cell,” read the complaint.
Rudigier also experienced severe abdominal pain during her time there. The jail initially gave her a set of antibiotics, and when those did not alleviate symptoms, they gave her a different type, which also did not help her pain. This process continued several more times.
“When Ms. Rudigier was finally able to see a physician outside of the jail, she was diagnosed with a gallbladder issue that required emergency medical surgery,” according to the ArchCity Defenders complaint.
Rudigier also lost 110 pounds while in the jail because of what he said were the jail’s inadequate meal portions. In order to earn extra food, Rudigier scrubbed the mold of the shower walls for three days.
The experiences of Rudigier and Hopple are just two of many other similar experiences found throughout the St. Francois County Jail, the pleading states, charging the facility often is overcrowded.
“Upon information and belief, the St. Francois County Jail can house approximately 168 detainees, and the average daily population is 136 detainees. The St. Francois County Jail population routinely exceeded 200 persons and, according to a recent government report, held approximately 300 people despite having never been expanded,” according to the lawsuit.
The complaint alleges that the facility put the detainees in a high-risk environment when exposing them to certain health hazards such as overflowing sewage and black mold. Moreover, the facility did not attempt to remedy the unsanitary conditions.
The complaint also notes that the class action members are so numerous that bringing all parties together would be impossible. They said the number of plaintiffs would number in the hundreds if they did.
“It is completely inconceivable that the actions of St. Francois County officials have been able to go unchecked in such a pervasive and systemic manner for so long,” said ArchCity Defender Staff Attorney Corrigan Lewis.
The class-action suit stems from a long line of revealing allegations of misconduct from the jail spanning years.
Julian Verdon is a senior at UCLA majoring in English. He is from Los Angeles California.
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