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Ex-teacher charged with raping student is latest St. Louis County jail inmate death

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UPDATED with two more potential victims contacting police

CLAYTON — A former substitute teacher facing charges of statutory rape and sodomy has died after jailers found him unresponsive in his cell at the St. Louis County Justice Center, officials said Tuesday.

Brandon Holbrook, 30, had been jailed there since Sept. 16. He was alone in a cell under quarantine when a corrections officer found him before 4 p.m. Monday, said Doug Moore, spokesman for County Executive Sam Page.

Brandon Holbrook

Brandon Holbrook was charged Sept. 17, 2022, with having a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl. Holbrook is a former substitute teacher. Police said he met the girl in May 2022 while teaching at Bernard Middle School in the Mehlville area

Holbrook was pronounced dead at Barnes-Jewish Hospital about an hour later. The cause of death is under investigation. Moore said authorities found no signs of drug use or indications of suicide in Holbrook’s cell. An autopsy is pending.

Holbrook is the third inmate at the St. Louis County Jail to die this year.

Holbrook, a former St. Louis-area substitute teacher, was charged this month in St. Louis County with raping one of his former students, a 14-year-old girl. She was a student at Bernard Middle School, 1054 Forder Road, in the Mehlville area, police said.

Holbrook, of the 3100 block of Nebraska Avenue in St. Louis, was charged with three counts of second-degree statutory rape and six counts of second-degree statutory sodomy. Police said Holbrook apparently met the girl at the school in May and began grooming her via social media. Holbrook went to her home three times and raped her, charges said.

St. Louis County police Sgt. Tracy Panus said two more potential victims had contacted police after prosecutors charged Holbrook. Panus said detectives were still investigating those allegations and hadn’t turned over their findings to the county prosecutor’s office.

Moore said corrections officers checked on Holbrook at 3:15 p.m. Monday and he was fine. They checked on him again about a half-hour later and saw him sitting upright on his bed and using earphones, and he didn’t respond to their request that he stand up. A corrections officer went into the cell, tapped Holbrook’s shoulder and found him unconscious.

The corrections officer tried to revive Holbrook in the jail with CPR; Holbrook was given Narcan, a medication that can reverse the effects of opioid overdoses. It’s normal practice for jailers to administer Narcan when an inmate is “unresponsive since drug use is prevalent among those who come into our care,” Moore told the Post-Dispatch. Medical staff at the jail also provided CPR, as did paramedics from Clayton, Moore said.

Holbrook had been in quarantine in an eighth-floor cell, not because of a suicide watch but while waiting for a second negative COVID test, which is protocol before inmates are moved into jail spaces with other inmates, Moore said.

“Holbrook had met with a mental health case worker earlier that day, and he was fine,” Moore said. About 1:30 p.m. Monday, the mental health case worker had cleared Holbrook to be moved into “general population,” the regular living quarters in the jail, though the move hadn’t been made by the time he was found unresponsive.

Scott Rosenblum, Holbrook’s attorney, said he was looking forward to seeing an independent investigation into the death of Holbrook.

“It seems very unusual,” Rosenblum said. “I know for a fact he was not suicidal.”

Rosenblum said, “We had been speaking with him and he was very logical and he was cogent, coherent and participating in his defense. Under the circumstances, he was optimistic and upbeat. He was still enjoying very close family ties.”

Rosenblum said Holbrook had no concerns about going into general population at the jail.

Holbrook was jailed on a $500,000 cash bail and had a bond reduction hearing scheduled for Tuesday, the day after he died. His preliminary hearing in the case was more than two weeks away.

Jeff Smith, chairman of the Justice Services Advisory Board, said he is awaiting a report from the jail and county health officials, but so far, he has been told there were no signs of trauma or foul play.

Moore, spokesman for the county executive, said jail officials are checking the tablet computer that Holbrook was using to see what phone calls he had made and emails he had sent before his death. Inmates are given tablet computers to communicate electronically with relatives and case workers.

There was “nothing in his cell indicating he injured himself at all. In this case,” Moore said, “we just don’t know what happened.”

Prior to the three deaths at the county jail this year, five inmates died there in 2019 and none the following two years. An audit, sought in part because of the rash of deaths in 2019, was unable to fully address the issue because reports on the deaths provided by the county were heavily redacted.

Auditors from the Miami-based criminal justice consulting firm CGL found the negative perception of the jail was unjustified and driven by media reports on those 2019 deaths, which were all caused by medical conditions.

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