The relative peace and quiet of a pleasantly warm Sunday Easter evening in St. Louis were interrupted by an uprising at the St. Louis City Justice Center. Around 8:40 pm, inmates at the Justice Center broke out windows on the third floor and tossed out furniture and clothing, and started a fire on the building’s exterior. The initial chaos quieted down about an hour-and-a-half later, only to give way to a second outburst in another section of the building.
As the Post Dispatch reports:
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.
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.
As noted by the Post, this isn’t the first time there have been issues at the Justice Center — not even recently.
The incident comes about two months after inmates broke out of their cells and revolted. In the predawn hours of Feb. 6, 117 inmates at the downtown City Justice Center broke free from their cells.
They smashed windows, set fires and tossed chairs, a filing cabinet and other items through the broken glass onto the street four stories below. A corrections officer was briefly hospitalized.
It was the third uprising at the downtown jail since December, according to the Associated Press.
Videos of Sunday night’s incident show the destruction and chaos:
Inmates setting the City Justice on fire again. This is just too easy. The idea of Closing the Workhouse looks more and more ridiculous. pic.twitter.com/lsaDXuDZzl
— Jane Dueker (@JaneDueker) April 5, 2021
— Maria Keena (@kmoxmaria) April 5, 2021
Court dates, of course, have been a bit difficult to come by compliments of the pandemic. There have been outbreaks at the courthouse and in-person jury trials have been a logistical challenge, to put it mildly. Criminal defendants awaiting trial do have the option of waiving a jury trial and proceeding with video-conference bench trials but that obviously is not optimal either.
It’s a difficult situation compounded by the fact that no one really seems to know who’s in charge. Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards recently retired and it does not appear that a replacement has been named. (This, as St. Louis is set to elect a new mayor tomorrow.) When asked that very question last night, Sheriff Vernon Betts acknowledged he wasn’t certain, before then offering, “I guess I am.”
“Who is in charge? I guess I am.”
Sheriff Vernon Betts on the scene right now. Public Safety director Jimmie Edwards retired this past week.
— Alexis Zotos (@alexiszotos) April 5, 2021
Who’s in charge? At the moment, sadly, it appears the inmates are.