Protest at City Hall

Kennard Williams led a protest of conditions at the city’s Medium Security Institution at City Hall on May 11. Unknown to protest organizers, on that same day the St. Louis circuit attorney’s dismissed second-degree robbery charges against Destiny Payne, for which she had been sentenced to 196 days in jail. She spent another 15 days in jail, after the charges were dismissed, before she was released at 3 a.m. on May 26. On June 22 she filed a wrongful incarceration lawsuit against the city.

A 19-year-old African-American woman filed a wrongful incarceration lawsuit against the City of St. Louis and several of its public safety officials on Thursday, June 22.

Destiny Payne, 18, was hanging out with a group of friends on the Delmar Loop on October 26, 2016 when things went awry. Her group saw a 20-year-old black man walking by, and her friends told Payne the man had “jumped their home girl.” Some members of her group, most of whom were acquaintances, decided to jump him back, Payne told police. They punched and kicked the man, then ran off with his bag.

Payne told the police when they arrested her on October 27 that she did not do anything but watch the robbery, according to the police report. She cooperated with police and identified four people who actually were involved in the robbery. On January 5, Payne was charged with second-degree robbery and spent 196 days in St. Louis city’s Medium Security Institution, known as the Workhouse, with her bond set at $40,000.

On May 11, the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office dismissed the charges against Payne. But she spent another 15 days in jail before she was released at 3 a.m. on May 26.

Because she was held for 15 days without being charged with a crime, the lawsuit cites six violations of Payne’s rights – including her Fourth and 14th Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable seizure and to have due process.

Among those named as defendants are the City of St. Louis, Mayor Lyda Krewson, Sheriff Vernon Betts, Public Safety Director Charlene Deeken, Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner, Circuit Clerk Thomas Kloeppinger, St. Louis Corrections Commissioner Dale Glass and several others.

The mayor has not seen the lawsuit, according to her spokesman Koran Addo. “And, as a general rule, we will not discuss ongoing litigation,” Addo said.  

Betts’ spokesman said the sheriff is unaware of the incident and has yet to be notified of the lawsuit. The St. Louis American reached out to the other defendants for a comment but has not yet received a response.

The lawsuit alleges that the defendants “knew that innocent citizens and people who have completed their sentences were wrongfully imprisoned” in city jails. It further states that the defendants were aware that they had “failed to establish effective release procedures” to ensure that Payne and others would not be wrongfully incarcerated. It also alleges that that they were aware that they hadn’t properly trained staff and that this was an “established pattern” to wrongfully detain individuals.

All these things deprived Payne of her freedom and caused her severe emotional distress, the suit states.

Payne was assigned three different public defenders but only ever saw one, said her lawyer Elad Gross, who filed the lawsuit. By the time Gross took on the case as a volunteer, Payne hadn’t seen a lawyer in five months.

“She pled not guilty, and then nothing happened,” Gross said. “She was just sitting there. She was in a state where she was ready to plead guilty just to get out. But there were literally no charges for her to plead guilty to. It’s ridiculous.”

Gross believes that Payne’s case is not an isolated incident.

Payne does not feel ready to talk about her experience, Gross said.

“It’s been emotionally traumatic for her,” Gross said. “She is pretty shook up because of the things that she went through and missed out on. The Medium Security Institution is not the most fun place, and she was only 18.”

She turned 19 about a week after she was released. 

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