Fox Files: An inside look at what led up to Justice Center riot

FOX Files

ST. LOUIS – Corrections officers warned a riot inside the St. Louis Justice Center would happen. Video of inmates breaking the glass from inside have shocked you, but officers say that’s what it’s looked like inside the jail for a long time.

One former officer and one current officer talked to FOX 2 about the area you could see that inmates breached. They said it’s a designated safe zone for officers – a cage for officers to be protected in a riot. It’s the only place officers say there’s access to outside windows, yet they say it’s an area they haven’t had access to for years.

“There hasn’t been a key for 10-plus years,” said former corrections officer Destiny Strickland.

Strickland said once inmates were in the area with the broken windows, they had control of the entire floor. She said inmates have always been able to escape their own cells.

“They jam paper in their doors or they put toothpaste on their doors to stop it from locking,” she said.

Strickland said officers can stop it but many are not making their required rounds to check.

“Some of them are scared to walk around the inmates, like to make sure that they’re safe or secure or alive,” she said.

A current officer confirmed this to FOX 2, while only speaking anonymously in fear of being fired for talking. The current officer said administration will often blame fear of COVID for not doing their job.

“One officer was informed there was drugs and many weapons inside a unit, was told that, informed that by another inmate,” the officer said. “That information was given to the captain who said because of COVID they could nothing about that. Just be safe.”

Strickland said that culture of fear might mean an inmate isn’t properly protected or does not get something they request – like covers for the night. She believes administration could easily crack down by watching jail videos.

“You can’t even whisper without them hearing what you’re saying,” she said.

Yet access to videos and to the jail has been denied to FOX 2 and to defense attorneys like Matthew Mahaffey of the Missouri State Public Defender’s Office.

“I’m very concerned at this point based on the intensity and consistency of the presentations our clients have given us,” he said.

The city called complaints a “false narrative” in a denial letter from the City Counselor’s Office.

“Transparency would seem to be super important in this and in all other instances where state actors are suggesting one narrative and those that they’re responsible for with less power are suggesting that other things are going on,” Mahaffey said.

The new jail task force will reportedly get access to the jails. An 8-member panel is scheduled to meet for the second time tomorrow.

Our investigation also continues, as this is just the beginning of what we’ve learned. Wednesday night, we’ll tell you why officers believe there are more drugs and weapons inside than ever as we look into a mysterious jail death.

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About the FOX Files

The Fox Files are groundbreaking investigations you won’t see anywhere else. The series is well known for breaking the Pam Hupp story nationally. The reports that led to the exoneration of Russ Faria. But, it is far from the only time in which our investigations led to overturned convictions and freedom for the wrongfully accused. The Fox Files investigations do not fit into just one category, other than the fact our reports shine a light on issues and corruption in ways you won’t see anywhere else.

You won’t know what to expect as our reports often take twists that surprise even Fox Files investigator Chris Hayes.

“You never know where the truth will lead and you have to keep searching for it, even when you think you might be done,” Hayes said.

From getting arrested for trying to cover a public meeting, to getting law enforcement involved in his report about a daycare fight club, the Fox Files has been at the forefront of breaking news investigations in the St. Louis area.

It doesn’t stop just in St. Louis. The Pam Hupp/Russ Faria story took him to Lincoln County. Fox 2 was the first to report, nationally, on the synthetic drug epidemic when it began in St. Charles County, MO. In St. Louis County, our Fox Files reporting led to the dismantling of some police departments, including the departments of Uplands Park and Jennings. And in the City of St. Louis, our investigations led to swift government actions, such as our report that led to the Governor’s ordered shut down of a daycare.

Our reporting in St. Louis also led to former Missouri Governor Eric Greitens’ exclusive Fox Files interviews involving his court fight to oust the chief prosecutor while attempting to prove that political corruption led to an illegal overturning of a state election.

“It’s not always bad news,” Hayes said about a recent victory for a restaurant in his coverage of a St. Clair County Illinois issue. A Fox Files report, exposing a health department’s mistake over the COVID-19 pandemic, led to an overturning of a decision, allowing the business to open for limited inside dining.

Another investigation took us to Madison County, where prosecutors praised Fox 2’s coverage while shutting down an illegal synthetic drug business – and to Monroe County, where we uncovered key evidence in the Chris Coleman murder trial.

Even the national media, continues reaching out to local affiliate Fox 2 KTVI and the Fox Files, for its work on cases that are important to St. Louis. When you see a network television’s coverage of St. Louis, you’ll often see that they gathered information that was first uncovered right here.

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