ST. LOUIS – On Wednesday, September 15, the ACLU of Missouri filed suit on behalf of ArchCity Defenders against the St. Louis City Department of Corrections in the Circuit Court of St. Louis for failure to comply with Missouri Sunshine Laws. The requested records pertain to repeated incidents of detainees being abused by corrections officers at the St. Louis City Justice Center (CJC).
This past May, after multiple uprisings at the CJC in response to inhumane conditions and constitutional violations, ArchCity Defenders, the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center, Rights Behind Bars, and Saint Louis University Law Clinic filed suit on behalf of three detainees. The suit shows a pattern of detainees being regularly maced without warning and then denied medical care and water afterward. One detainee was pepper sprayed while having a seizure, and another has been pepper sprayed at least three times since last November. In one incident, officers slammed his head against the inside of an elevator after removing him from the shower.
In April of 2021, ArchCity Defenders attorney Maureen Hanlon submitted a written sunshine request to the St. Louis City Division of Corrections seeking access to all use of force reports completed by correctional staff for the prior six months that relate to the use of a chemical agent at the City Justice Center. Although the organizations made a simple, narrow request for records, the City has failed to provide a single record six months later.
This is particularly galling given the Department of Corrections practice of providing the media immediate access to videos or other records to stoke public fear and outrage, and provide a narrow framing for alleged incidents of detainee misconduct. If the City can immediately release sensational videos within hours of those incidents, it makes the Department’s refusal to provide documents concerning the frequent allegations of correctional officer misconduct even more problematic.
The ACLU of Missouri is suing to force the City to follow the law so that the organizations can uncover how chemical agents are being used against those held in the City Justice Center. Understanding the use of chemical munitions by the jails is especially crucial information considering the department’s recent purchases total $17,379, which is more than the previous six years combined. In addition, transparency is vital to maintain trust between the government and the people who give the government its authority and ensure that public officials are not misusing the authority they have been given.
Tony Rothert, ACLU of Missouri: “It is recognized around the world that governments using chemical weapons against their own people is a deplorable act resorted to by totalitarian regimes, so reports of chemical agents deployed in the Justice Center—where most folks are pre-trial detainees not convicted of a crime—are troubling to anyone concerned about human rights. The City’s refusal to comply with Missouri’s public records law raises serious questions about just what officials are trying to hide.”
Maureen Hanlon, Staff Attorney with ArchCity Defenders: “It is disappointing that the City of St. Louis continuously relies on delay tactics and obfuscation to hinder providing records. The Department of Corrections stands out as egregiously and routinely employing a custom of refusing to provide substantive responses to requests for months, if not years. These long standing delays and lack of transparency have meant the public lacks access to accurate information about issues such as correctional officer misconduct. This lack of transparency has persisted throughout changes in City and Corrections leadership. This has reached an untenable point, and we’re grateful to the ACLU for representing us.,”