ArchCity Defenders on Monday filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the City of St. Louis in U.S. District Court on behalf of the mother of a man who died in a city jail.
Louis "Lyen" Payton, 48, suffered a fatal opioid overdose in August 2018 in the city's Medium Security Institution, better known as the Workhouse.
Jacob Long, the city communications director, declined to comment about the federal lawsuit.
"We don't comment on pending litigation such as this," Long stated in a text.
Payton had been locked in the jail for seven months after being unable to pay a cash bond, according to a statement from ArchCity.
A video clip of Payton's last moments, released as part of the lawsuit, shows Payton sitting at a table before he sags in his chair. ArchCity says he had lost consciousness at this point, and fellow inmates came to his aid as correctional officers ignored their urgent pleas for help. Medical staff arrived on the scene only after Payton had been unresponsive for more than eight minutes, according to the statement.
Correctional officers entered the room after Payton had been unresponsive for nearly five minutes and then left. No correctional officers checked Payton’s pulse, no one provided CPR or breathing support, and no one administered naloxone, a drug used to counter such overdoses, during that time. When nurses finally entered the room, Payton had been with little to no oxygen for close to nine minutes and was past help, according to the suit.
"They let my brother die in the Workhouse,” says Janice Washington, sister of Payton. “I’m hurt, and I’m still mad. Every holiday, every birthday, he’s gone, and we don’t see him anymore. When they took him, they took a lot from our family.”
The suit, filed on behalf of Payton's mother, Velma Payton, names the City of St. Louis, Commissioner of Corrections Dale Glass, jail Superintendent Jeffrey Carson and four individual correctional officers as defendants. The complaint alleges they were deliberately indifferent to Payton’s serious medical needs when they failed to get him timely medical care, a violation of his Fourteenth Amendment rights.
Drug smuggling by staff and drug use by inmates have been documented by the news media spanning a decade. On August 8, 2019, Christopher Brown, a 35-year-old man detained in the Workhouse, died of a reported fentanyl overdose. Brown was the eighth person to die in the Workhouse since 2009, according to ArchCity.
In November 2017, ArchCity filed a federal lawsuit alleging plaintiffs were detained in inhumane jail conditions and lacked access to adequate medical care. This suit is still pending.
Since 2018, a local jail closure campaign, Close the Workhouse, has organized widespread support from St. Louis residents and elected officials to permanently shutter the facility.
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