More than 100 inmates took over a section of the City Justice Center in downtown St. Louis, injuring a corrections officer at the facility, officials said.
The incident began around 2:30 a.m. Saturday in a fourth-floor unit when a “defiant” inmate “who was very, very upset” got into a fight with the corrections officer, Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards said at a news conference.
The officer was then jumped by other inmates in the unit.
During the fight, several detainees were able to “jimmy” the locks on their cells, open them and get into the unit, according to Edwards.
As jail employees were trying to get the corrections officer to safety, the inmates accessed a lock panel system and “other detainees were released from their cells into the unit.”
Edwards said the unit was breached and inmates were able to get into a hallway. A second unit on the floor also “started to have defiant detainees,” he said.
“Those detainees were also very aggressive, very violent. They too were able to be released from their cells because those locks were also jimmied. And they were also able to breach their unit,” he told reporters.
The incident involved 117 inmates.
According to NBC affiliate KSDK, the inmates threw items out of broken windows and started small fires inside the jail.
Chairs and other items were scattered across the street and at least one car had a shattered windshield, the outlet reported. Several of the inmates were seen holding signs and chanting.
None of them were able to gain access to other floors, Edwards told reporters. By 10 a.m., the situation had been contained after sheriff’s deputies and police assisted.
Officials have not identified the injured corrections officer but said he was in the hospital and expected to recover.
This is the third disturbance at the facility, which Edwards said houses inmates with “very serious offenses.”
In late December and early January, the jail was disrupted by inmates expressing concerns over unsafe conditions amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Edwards said the detainees involved in Saturday’s incident did not make any demands. He said there are no cases of Covid-19 at the facility.
“This was a bunch of folks that were defiant,” he said. “This was a bunch of people that decided that they were going to engage in criminal mayhem, and that’s exactly what they did and they should be held accountable for what they did.”
Fifty-five prisoners were moved to the segregation unit at the jail. Another 65 of “some of the most violent offenders” were taken to the Medium Security Institution, which Edwards said is more secure than the City Justice Center.
The damage from Saturday’s takeover left only one usable unit. Edwards said he hopes the others will be available in the next couple of weeks.
The public safety director also acknowledged the jail is understaffed and said the issue with the cell locks is something the facility has been trying to fix since December.