ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI)-- A federal lawsuit filed Friday charges inmates at the St. Louis City Medium Security Institution, known as the Workhouse, were forced to participate in "gladiator-style combat" for the entertainment of correction officers.
St. Louis City, the Workhouse, and three city officials, including Mayor Francis Slay, are also named as defendants.
Lawyers representing seven inmates are seeking to make the case a class action lawsuit. The men, some of whom say they were injured in the fights, seek more than 150 million dollars in damages.
Five correction officers are named in the lawsuit including three identified by their last names only because the inmates do know their first names. The other two, Dexter Brinson and Elvis Howard, both suspended officers, have also been charged in St. Louis Circuit Court with first degree burglary, third degree assault and obstruction of justice.
An investigation into an unrelated death of an inmate at the Workhouse located surveillance video that prosecutors say shows Brinson and Howard taking an inmate to the cell of another prisoner and then later removing him after what appeared to be a fight. Correction authorities brought in the police and the Circuit Attorney's Office to launch an investigation.
St. Louis City Operations Director Sam Dotson said, "Once it was brought to the city's attention, once we became aware of it we acted immediately to curb the problem." Dotson believes the problem is limited to the incident involving Brinson and Howard, but the mother of Frankie Edwards a lawsuit plaintiff, disagrees.
"From when he first got in there he was telling me he was doing fights and stuff like that and every time they move him he was going into a fight. It's almost like a year ago cause he been there almost a year now," LaDonna Pitchford said as she stood outside the Eagleton Federal Courthouse in downtown St. Louis Friday afternoon.
"I just hope that everything that's been going on over the years in the jail could be stopped," Pitchford added.
"This is no different than the dog fight scandal ...now we're dealing with human lives; we're dealing with people that have been locked up in MSI," said plaintiff attorney Ryan Smith.
Plaintiff attorney Paul Sims told reporters, "I have information this has been going on for years. I'm talking like decades. It seems to be something that is prevailing just like it's become ingrained into the system."
Dotson, a St. Louis City Police Captain on leave to serve as Mayor Francis Slay's Operations Director, questioned the claim by Sims. "We haven't found any evidence that this is an ongoing, prolific problem," he noted. Dotson added that the city's investigation is still underway and anyone with information about problems at the Workhouse should contact the Public Safety Director's office.
Another plaintiff attorney, former St. Louis Mayor Freeman Bosley, Jr. predicted justice in the case would be granted "in a very expeditious fashion." Bosley praised the city for conducting the investigation that uncovered criminal activity.