“They Are Kept In The Same Clothes For Weeks”: 15 Citizens File A Lawsuit Against Ferguson And Its Jail Conditions

February 10, 2015  |  

This Sunday, a federal class-action lawsuit was filed against the cities of Jennings and Ferguson for allegedly jailing those who have petty debt. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court in St. Louis on behalf of 15 plaintiffs. These plaintiffs have been labeled as “impoverished people,” who could not afford to pay their traffic violations and other minor offenses. One of the complaints of the suit shared with The St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

“They were threatened, abused and left to languish in confinement at the mercy of local officials until their frightened family members could produce enough cash to buy their freedom or until city jail officials decided, days or weeks later, to let them out for free.”

Lawyer Thomas Harvey who serves as the executive director for ArchCity Defenders says of the arrests, “We are seeking an injunction against the Jennings and Ferguson courts in order to stop them from consistently violating peoples’ rights and locking them in jail as a result of their inability to pay.”

Harvey said the lawsuits against the cities of Ferguson and Jennings have been in the work for three months. For years he, along with other Arch City Defenders, have condemned the St. Louis municipalities (especially in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting). Harvey reveals both the cities of Jennings and Ferguson has been targeted not only jailing citizens for minor offenses but for its prison conditions. According to their lawsuit, citizens are kept, “in overcrowded cells; they are denied toothbrushes, toothpaste, and soap; they are subjected to the stench of excrement and refuse in their congested cells; they are surrounded by walls smeared with mucus, blood and feces; they are kept in the same clothes for days and weeks without access to laundry or clean undergarments.”

The Post-Dispatch uses this unsettling example of the deplorable conditions at the Jennings jail: when inmates come into court, courtroom staff must spray the hallways with Febreeze to overcome the smell of inmates’ body odor.

Some of the plaintiffs who are in jail are considered homeless or live below the poverty line. One Jennings man, Edward Brown, 62, accumulated numerous tickets and fines over the years that he could not pay off. Therefore, he has been jailed repeatedly. On one occasion, the judge allowed Brown to be set free, but he was sent to another city, Pine Lawn,  in the St. Louis municipality  because he owed fines there.

Another plaintiff Keilee Fant is 37-year-old single mother who works as a certified nurse assistant. She has been jailed over a dozen times because of failing to pay her traffic tickets. Based on her income, Fant cannot afford to pay off her tickets, still feed her family and pay off living expenses. Harvey says of Fant and Brown that the two represent the other plaintiffs who live check-to-check and being in jail displaces them from being with their families or living a normal life.

Harvey proclaims: “These are systems that are immoral, unethical and clearly illegal, as well.”

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