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St. Louis jail guard injured in morning hostage-taking

The St. Louis City Justice Center on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, in St. Louis, Missouri.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Two inmates at the City Justice Center, shown in November 2021, took a guard hostage on Tuesday. A police SWAT team had to use less-than-lethal force to rescue the guard, a man in his 70s.

St. Louis public safety officials say they will be looking at “everything top to bottom” after two inmates attacked a guard Tuesday morning at the City Justice Center in downtown St. Louis.

“We’re going to be looking at the manner in which we operate from beginning to end, from the night shift all the way to day shift to the evening to see where we erred and address it accordingly,” Corrections Commissioner Jennifer Clemons-Abdullah told reporters during a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

The inmates, who officials said have a history of disciplinary problems, took the guard hostage around 6 a.m. while they were being served breakfast. Police got the first 911 call around 6:10 a.m. and arrived about 15 minutes later. There was a request around 7 a.m. for a St. Louis police SWAT team, which arrived about an hour later.

SWAT officers used less-than-lethal force, which can include measures like pepper spray or beanbags, to rescue the guard around 8:20 a.m. He is in his 70s and has worked at the jail for five years. He and two inmates suffered minor injuries.

“I want to thank the St. Louis police department and the City Justice Center teams for their quick and safe work in mitigating this incident,” said Charles Coyle, the city's interim public safety director.

Corrections officials said other inmates were also involved in the violence but would not say how many. They also would not say whether any weapons were used, how the inmates were able to restrain the guard, how many guards were on duty or what led to the hostage-taking, citing an ongoing investigation.

Reporters on the press call, held via Zoom, noted that Clemons-Abdullah appeared to be wearing a flak jacket. She confirmed that she sometimes wears a ballistic vest when at the jail but did not explain why.

There were multiple uprisings at the jail in 2020 and 2021, but Clemons-Abdullah said most of the issues driving that violence had been corrected.

The city has been at loggerheads with a nine-member board tasked with investigating complaints at the jail and making policy suggestions. Clemons-Abdullah said a lack of oversight was not the problem.

“This is merely an operation issue,” she said.

But the Rev. Darryl Gray, chair of the Detention Facilities Oversight Board, said the operations of the jail are in the board’s purview.

“The conditions that lead to hostage situations, or riots, it doesn't go away. It just increases,” he said. “All we're asking is, allow us to do our job, so that we can respond to the issues that are raised by detainees, correctional officers and administrative staff so that we can help you."

The oversight board is demanding a meeting with Clemons-Abdullah and to see a copy of video of the incident within 48 hours. Gray said the board would issue a subpoena, its first, if that demand is not met.

Clemons-Abdullah said the jail has body-worn cameras but has not yet deployed them. There are static video cameras inside the facility.

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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