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St. Louis Riverfront Times

Police Are Investigating St. Louis Jail Death as ‘Criminal’

By Ryan Krull,

Booking photo of Terrence Smith, who died in jail custody last month.

One of the deaths that occurred last month at the City Justice Center is the subject of a "criminal investigation" by the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, according to a copy of an email obtained by the RFT.

Terrence Smith was 55 and had been locked up in the CJC since January when, in the early hours of Thursday, August 31, he was rushed from the jail to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Smith's stepdaughter Ramia Hodge told KMOV at the time that Smith had health ailments prior to his incarceration, but they worsened while in the CJC. "He had a neck brace. He lost his memory. He couldn’t talk. He couldn’t walk. He was in a wheelchair,” Hodge told reporter Shoshana Stahl about Smith's health after months in jail.

In the wake of Smith's death, it came to light that a member of the city's Division of Civilian Oversight had previously attempted to investigate an anonymous complaint made about Smith's living conditions in the jail in April, but was barred from entering the facility by Corrections Commissioner Jennifer Clemons-Abdullah.

The email referencing a criminal investigation into Smith's death is from the SLMPD to the civilian oversight board. The letter claims, "Activities of the Civilian Oversight and/or Detention Oversight Board will interfere with the ongoing criminal investigation. Please stay all inquiries and investigations … until the criminal investigation is complete."

Oversight board member Pamela Walker says she's supportive of the police investigating Smith's death, but also says that civilian oversight is being left in the dark, both about criminal investigations of any recent jail deaths (there have been nine in the past two years) as well as what the findings of those investigations are.

"This is the first we have been officially notified of any police investigation," Walker says. "We ask that we get a monthly update on all investigations and a formal update from the chief of findings when said investigations are completed. That has not been happening."

Civilian oversight of the jail, and more specifically the access that members of the civilian oversight board are allowed to have to the facility, has been a source of controversy in recent months. City Hall has steadfastly backed Clemons-Abdullah.

The RFT reached out to the Department of Public Safety for comment. A spokesman referred us to the text of the ordinance that established the current iteration of the oversight board for the jail.
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