ST. LOUIS — A federal lawsuit filed Monday against St. Francois County and officials associated with the jail claims inmates are routinely subjected to unsanitary conditions, denied proper food and adequate medical care, and forced to battle during “Friday Night Fights.”
The lawsuit on behalf of three former detainees says it’s the latest of about 27 federal lawsuits filed since 2005 over conditions at the county jail. It was filed by the St. Louis public interest legal group ArchCity Defenders, longtime jail critic and Farmington lawyer Vonne Karraker and other lawyers. It seeks class-action status to represent other detainees.
“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,” ArchCity lawyer Corrigan Lewis said in a statement announcing the suit.
The current jail administrator, Jaime Crump, referred questions to Sheriff Dan Bullock, who did not respond to a message seeking comment. Lawyers for the county also did not respond.
The lawsuit says Robert Hopple, 49, of Bonne Terre, was held from about May 4, 2018, to Oct. 23, 2018, during which he was unable to shower or bathe and wasn’t fed adequately. The jail was so cold at one point that sewage from overflowing toilets froze, it says.
Deputies conspired to have two other inmates attack Hopple, the suit says, and medical staff ignored his need for treatment. He was forced to pull one of his own broken teeth, the suit says. He also witnessed deputies ignoring an inmate’s suicide attempt and another man’s chest pains.
"The only thing I can think to call it is ‘the worst place in the world to be,’” Hopple said in the ArchCity statement.
He witnessed fights between detainees arranged by guards who worked on the weekends or overnight shifts, according to the suit. Detainees would be chosen to fight for the entertainment of guards, who would watch from another room using a television monitor, the suit says.
Stefani Rudigier, 27, of Maplewood, was held for about two years beginning in March 2017, during which she said she also suffered unsanitary conditions, including the jail’s failure to provide feminine hygiene products, and wasn’t given her prescription medication for her mental illness for most of her stay.
A nurse repeatedly prescribed antibiotics that failed to address Rudigier’s medical complaints, and she had to have emergency gallbladder surgery upon her release, the suit says.
Rudigier said, “I just felt like I was truly fighting for my life.”
Shawn Mesey, 31, of Jefferson City, was in the jail four times for a total of about a year between 2017 and 2019. Without specialized shoes, Mesey cannot walk or climb stairs without stumbling and experiences constant pain and stiffness in his legs, the suit says. The lawsuit says former Jail Administrator Dennis Smith, when discussing orthopedic shoes, said “we don’t do that” at the jail.
Mesey and other detainees in a holding cell were sprayed with mace or beaten while in a restraint chair if they requested a shower, the suit says. A painful tooth, later extracted in state prison, was not addressed at the jail, and Mesey was told he would have to buy his own pain medication, the lawsuit says.
Rudigier and Mesey were both diagnosed with PTSD from their jail stay, the suit alleges.
The jail, a former dairy farm in Farmington, is routinely overcrowded, and showers are either freezing cold or hot enough that inmates cook noodles in the water, the suit contends.
The plaintiffs also allege that a trained medical staffer is only available eight hours a day, a doctor didn’t provide the required weekly visits and jail staff charged inmates for requesting medical care. Inmates suffering a mental health crisis were not treated but placed in a five-point restraint chair until they calmed down, without food, water or the ability to stand up and use the bathroom, the suit says.
Federal officials in 2017 revoked the jail’s contract to hold federal pre-trial detainees, citing “a litany of conditions and ... health care concerns,” the suit says.
The Marshall Project and the Riverfront Times interviewed 50 former detainees and four former employees for a July article about conditions at the jail.