ST. LOUIS – A staff member at the St. Louis Juvenile Detention Center was severely beaten during an attempted mass escape Sunday night, authorities have confirmed to FOX 2 News. The worker was hospitalized with several broken bones in his face.
There have been multiple escapes and attempts to abscond from the facility, located at Vandeventer and Enright avenues in the city’s Grand Center neighborhood, over the past year.
Restroom access for detainees has been a contributing factor in numerous incidents.
A staff member said there are no toilets in individual cells. So, the unarmed detention officers, who are officially called youth leaders, must unlock the cells to allow detainees to use the restroom.
In the most recent incident, police said a 17-year-old detainee beat a 61-year-old male detention officer after the officer opened his cell. The detainee took his keys and opened the cells of fellow detainees. The members of the St. Louis Police Anti-Crime Task Force happened to be on-site for an unrelated assignment. Officers took three male juveniles, ages 14 to 17, into custody.
They helped detention officers stop what could have been a mass escape. A witness said that nearly 15 detainees were freed from their cells inside the detention center.
“It’s an ongoing issue that’s been going on for years now,” said Dwayne Cutts, who lives near the detention center. “It seems like somebody would step forward and actually make a difference over there and improve the security and living arrangements.”
In December, a 17-year-old was hit and killed as he ran from a crashed car onto Interstate 70 in St. Louis. He had escaped from the detention center about three months earlier, one of at least 10 escapees in less than a year.
The restroom issue heightens tensions, with detainees frequently urinating and defecating on cell floors, a staff member said. Having to unlock cells so detainees can use a restroom puts staff at risk and has led to repeated escapes.
FOX 2 reached out to Missouri’s 22nd Judicial Circuit Court, which operates the facility, about the restroom issues and repeated escape attempts. Chief Juvenile Officer Amanda Sodomka gave the following response via email:
“The court can confirm that there was an incident that occurred in the juvenile detention facility on Sept. 25, 2022, that involved multiple juveniles. A detention staff was injured and hospitalized. Detention staff, with the assistance of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, contained the juveniles within the detention facility.”
The court administrator, Nathan Graves, also responded via email with the following comments:
“The incidences that have occurred at the juvenile detention facility are being assessed on an ongoing basis and addressed as needs are determined. The court’s priority is the safety and security of the juveniles and staff. The court cannot disclose information related to the security of the detention facility.”