St. Louis County Council held the first of two hearings Tuesday concerning the regulations and procedures for detainees at the St. Louis County jail. The hearings come in response to the deaths of three inmates this year.
Council members listened to testimony from advocates and family members of Lamar Catchings, 20, an inmate who died of leukemia in March.
“To suffer alone and in pain, he didn’t have anybody,” said Tashonda Troupe, Catchings’ mother. “The autopsy still didn’t give me all the answers, because I still don’t know exactly when my son died.”
Troupe also requested more transparency from the county jail and questioned whether the guard making the rounds the day of Catchings’ death followed procedure.
Representatives from the St. Louis County Department of Justice Services, which oversees the county jail, were absent from the hearing on the advice of the county lawyers. Councilwoman Rochelle Walton Gray, D-Black Jack, said a closed session was presented to the county counselor's office to allow county jail adminstration to testify privately.
“What was the meaning of having this meeting if we’re only going to be here talking to ourselves?” said Natasha Troupe, Catchings’ aunt. “I’m asking you for charges.”
Gray said the hearings can serve their purposes as long as comments are on the record. She said those records and notes can be shared with the justice services department. She said she still hopes to see justice services staff and representatives from the county counselor's office at the next hearing.
“I feel like we are the county as well. They represent the county, and we have a right to ask questions,” Gray said.
Councilman Ernie Trakas, R-South St. Louis County, said that due to the ongoing investigation, actions and statements from the justice center could be limited.
“It’s frustrating because they’re not here. They don’t want to answer questions even with respect to the policies and protocols,” Trakas said. “That doesn’t mean we’re without ability to continue to look at just the structure and the validity of what we know is in these policies and procedures.”
The second hearing will be held on April 30. Gray said councilmembers are also hoping to hear from key witnesses.
There were also questions about the accreditation of the county jail. Councilman Tim Fitch, R-St. Louis County, said the council should consider reviewing the last assessment report by the American Correctional Association. The organization provides policies and procedures for its accredited facilities.
The county council voted in early March to establish a new contract with the organization for re-accreditation. The approved ordinance would require an on-site audit of the facility.
Representatives from the American Correctional Association and the St. Louis County Justice Center did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
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