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MacArthur Justice Center Sues St. Louis City Officials For Stonewalling After Another Workhouse Death

ST. LOUIS - The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center (MJC) has sued the City of St. Louis for its failure to provide records and reports relating to the mysterious death of Justin Ratcliff, a detainee who died at the City Department of Corrections’ Medium Security Institution - better known as “the Workhouse” – in December 2016.

Since that time other St. Louis City jail deaths have been made public by authorities and reported in the press. Yet, for some reason, Justin Ratcliff’s demise seems to be a matter of great secrecy.

For months MJC has made requests under Missouri’s Sunshine Law to obtain incident reports from the jail, internal investigations documents, the medical examiner’s records, and the death certificate. Other than turning over a single police report that raises more questions than it answers, however, the City of St. Louis has disregarded MJC’s repeated requests while also acknowledging additional materials exist. Thus, the group filed suit today in the St. Louis City Circuit Court to obtain the materials and sanctions.

“As soon as we opened our doors last summer,” MJC’s director Mae Quinn explained, “we began hearing terrible stories about the City’s jail system, and at the Workhouse in particular. Then we learned about Mr. Ratcliff’s death from his mother and just could not believe the City’s deafening silence around his demise.”

Quinn went on, “Mr. Ratcliff’s family, friends, and this community want – and deserve – answers about his passing while in government custody and care.”

Indeed, as their lawsuit recounts, MJC made its Sunshine Request pursuant to Missouri law back on April 4, 2017. At that time, the group was told it would take 15 days for the requested materials to be rounded up from the City’s various agencies. But now after more than three months MJC has received only a single police report. Despite repeated follow-up phone calls and emails to the City, little has been provided to shed light on Mr. Ratcliff’s death – much less details of any investigation into its circumstances or results of examination of his body.

“We tried in earnest to seek information amicably without unnecessary intervention of the courts,” explained Amy Breihan, an MJC staff attorney and named plaintiff in the lawsuit filed today.

“We wrote repeatedly, made numerous phone calls, and even visited the Workhouse only to be escorted out of the facility by its Director,” Breihan continued. “Last month I personally informed the City that we would be forced to take legal action if we did not hear anything further – and still, more silence. It surely seems like someone is trying to hide something.”

MJC is not the first organization to express concerns about Workhouse conditions and practices. But it is committed to working with the community to help bring about the closure of the outdated facility, which obviously does far more harm than good.

“The Workhouse’s horrendous conditions are well-known in this town,” Breihan noted. “What many people may not know is that it was the subject of federal litigation and oversight for many years.”

But according Quinn, “the federal government ultimately left after lots of promises were made. And now it seems like the City believes it is no longer being carefully watched or that it can get away with the status quo. But we are here to tell City officials they are wrong and that the Workhouse has got to go. Meanwhile we demand answers about what happened to Justin Ratcliff.”

Read the full complaint & exhibits.

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