ST. LOUIS — A federal civil rights lawsuit filed on behalf of two former inmates of the St. Charles County Jail says one was attacked and nearly killed by a jailer, and the other spent months in solitary confinement for no good reason.
The lawsuit was filed Wednesday on behalf of Eric Smith and Ali Qandah, both of St. Louis County. It seeks unspecified damages and names jail staff, St. Charles County, and the county’s corrections director.
Blake Strode of ArchCity Defenders, which along with the law firm Khazaeli Wyrsch filed the suit, said it is clear that “direct and systemic change is needed” at the jail.
St. Charles County spokeswoman Mary Enger said the county “takes seriously its responsibility to the hundreds of inmates placed in custody by the courts each year.” She said the county provides the jail an on-site nursing program, as well as additional contracted nurses, physicians, dentists and psychiatrists. Inmates with more pressing issues are taken to hospitals, she said.
The lawsuit alleges that Smith was attacked last year while serving a 12-day sentence for failing to pay court fines and fees for a traffic violation. It accuses a correctional officer of slamming Smith’s head on a metal stool. The suit says that because a jail staff member downplayed the injury, it was three months before Smith was able to get an MRI showing bleeding in the brain, requiring immediate surgery.
“I was sentenced to do time in St. Charles County Jail because I couldn’t afford to pay this fine and I almost died,” Smith, 36, said in a news release. “How many people have been jailed because they were poor and ended up injured, jobless, and scarred for life?”
Qandah, 29, was jailed awaiting trial in 2014. The suit claims he was held in solitary confinement without justification for eight months, harassed for being Arab-American and Muslim, and attacked by another inmate after a correctional officer allowed that inmate into Qandah’s cell. Qandah eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge and was released from jail on probation.