We hear you.
For the families of the three men who died in the Justice Center this year, I want you to know that we are listening and want answers, just like you do – answers that the community deserves.
As chairwoman of the County Council’s Committee on Justice, Health and Welfare, I’m committed to finding out what happened. The deaths of Lamar Catchings, John M. Shy and Larry “Jay” Reavis are of grave concern and, as an elected leader of this county, finding out what happened is a top priority.
At a public hearing on April 16, we heard from family and friends of these men. For the loved ones and for many of the council members, it was frustrating that no one from the Justice Center would come before the committee to listen to the concerns.
The county counselor’s office had recommended that then-Acting Director Julia Childrey and her staff remain silent on what happened while an investigation is under way. County Executive Steve Stenger has called it a criminal investigation by an outside agency and said he does not want to jeopardize the work underway. But on Monday, April 22, he replaced Childrey with another interim director, a sign that Childrey was not doing her job.
We as a council don’t see asking questions about policies and procedures at the Justice Center as impeding an investigation. Rather, we see it as a way of making sure that no other deaths occur there.
I have asked the new acting director, Lt. Col. Troy Doyle, to come to a hearing April 30 to introduce himself to the council and also to hear directly from the family members who want answers as soon as possible.
Taking the time to listen would show compassion. It would show empathy. It would show that as the steward of inmates at the Justice Center, where those awaiting trial are held under the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, there is genuine concern in finding out what happened. Proper medical treatment while in the custody of the county is not a request, but a mandate.
Council members have received copies of the Justice Center’s policies, and we continue to review them. But until we can talk with those who work at the Justice Center, we will not know whether these polices were followed or if they should be changed to create a safer environment for both the workers and the inmates.
To the families and friends of these men: We are deeply sorry for what happened. And our commitment to you is to keep working to find answers. We are confident that with your help, we will be able to improve the operations at the Justice Center.
On the county website, Childrey, the former acting director of the Justice Center wrote: “I am proud to be a leader of St. Louis County government and support our dedicated employees in providing exceptional customer service to the citizens of this prestigious county. If you have any suggestion that would assist us to improve our services, please let us know.”
Childrey has been returned to her previous position as supervisor of operations with Justice Services. That’s a good first step. But the work that I and other council members are doing is far from over.
We hear you. Come and let the new Justice Center interim director hear you too.
Rochelle Walton Gray, a Democrat, represents North St. Louis County, including Black Jack, Spanish Lake, Bellefontaine Neighbors, Riverview, a very small part of Florissant and the northeastern part of unincorporated St. Louis County. She chairs the County Council’s Justice, Health and Welfare Committee.