A lawsuit filed on Aug. 17 alleges that St. Louis, Mo., jailers forced inmates to fight each other for the amusement of guards and bet on the outcomes.
At least one attack was captured on camera, according to the suit filed in federal court on behalf of seven current and former inmates of the jail known as the City Workhouse. The inmates were victims, attackers or both, the suit said.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the lawsuit seeks class status to represent all inmates who may have been involved. It seeks an injunction along with punitive damages of $150 million or more.
The suit also asks a judge to order the removal of prisoners from the workhouse.
Lawyers for the inmates say guards sometimes offered special privileges, extra food and snacks to prompt the fights. In other instances, inmates were threatened with attack unless they agreed to fight. The suit claims that guards bet on the outcomes.
The inmates’ lawyers say one of the incidents led to third-degree assault and other charges being filed against two correctional officers in June. Charging documents accuse the men of escorting an inmate to a cell and watching as he punched another inmate for about a minute.
According to the documents, the inmate who was punched told staff he didn’t report the attack because “the staff allowed it.” The inmates’ lawyers said the attack was discovered when a jail employee was reviewing surveillance tape while looking into an unrelated death.
St. Louis Director of Operations Sam Dotson said as soon as city officials became aware of the fight, they contacted police and prosecutors. That led to the guards being charged.
Dotson said he believes that fight was an isolated incident.
“Certainly that’s behavior that’s illegal, that we don’t tolerate,” he said.