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Top St. Louis jail official suspended hours before latest inmate escape

Top St. Louis jail official suspended hours before latest inmate escape

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Lorenzo Pollard

Lorenzo Pollard

ST. LOUIS • Hours before a nunchuck-wielding inmate escaped from the city Workhouse, the city's corrections commissioner was suspended over his management of city jail facilities.

Gene Stubblefield, the commissioner, was placed on forced leave Friday. It is a civil service position, so Stubblefield will have a chance to state his case through a series of hearings and meetings.

City officials say the shakeup came after a review of past jail breaks and the overall operations, which included issues like overdue bills and overtime payments.

The mayor's operations director, Police Capt. Sam Dotson, emphasized that there are no allegations of criminal misconduct.

Dotson declined to give a specific dollar amount on the overtime payments and late bills.

Dotson said Mayor Francis Slay asked him to review the overall operations of the city's correctional facilities four months ago when Dotson started in the position. 

He said the review found "the leadership was causing problems in the facilities."

"The employees are basically good and the facilities are basically sound, but what was missing was a firm commitment to make sure the rules and procedures are followed," he explained.

Of the multiple jail breaks, he added, "This cannot happen. I'm frustrated by it. The mayor's frustrated by it. These types of failures . . . cannot happen."

The inmate who escaped Friday night, Lorenzo Pollard, 31, was still at large Saturday afternoon. His jail break seemed almost fictional, as he fought off more than a dozen correctional officers with nunchucks fashioned from bed sheets and a chair in his jail cell.

Dotson said the actions of the guards and the integrity of the medium-security jail is being reviewed, as has occurred in past breaks.

"Anytime there's a breach or serious incident at the facilities we have a responsibility to do a thorough investigation and that started last night," he said.

Pollard was last seen on North Florissant Avenue and Hebert Street wearing maroon prisoner pants and a white T-shirt, and with a bandage on his arm.

He's considered armed and dangerous, possibly carrying two shanks. It's unclear whether those are the same weapons officials said he used to escape.

Dotson said Pollard was being held in a pod toward the back of the jail that houses about 50 inmates. After he was led by guards to the shower area, he started using his makeshift weapons, Dotson said.

As the correctional guards called for back-up, Pollard climbed to the second tier of jail cells, continuing to swing the nunchucks. At one point, Dotson said, there were about a dozen guards trying to stop him.

Pollard used the nunchucks to break through some glass blocks that allow sunlight into the jail, while still swinging at the guards to ward them off.

He jumped out the hole he created and landed on some pavement below, then made a break for the two fences that secure the perimeter of the facility, at 7600 Hall Street.

Dotson said there was a guard outside, but he was unable to get to Pollard before he scaled two razor and barbed wire fences.

Police officers swarmed the area, using both K-9 and a helicopter to search the surrounding area for Pollard, who was in jail on theft, trespassing, property damage and resisting arrest charges filed in May.

The workhouse is surrounded by light industrial businesses, including a trucking company, and the area to the north and east near the Mississippi River is full of thick foliage.

The escape occurred at about 8:20 p.m. Friday. It was the second one at the facility since July.

Allen Brown Jr., 29, of Creve Coeur, walked through an open gate and jumped the fences of the facility on July 27. He was captured a day later in the city.

Brown had been jailed since November awaiting trial on drug and firearms violations.

Two corrections officers were put on leave because of the escape.

In April, two inmates broke free from the St. Louis Justice Center downtown by crawling through an access panel in the ceiling of the infirmary, then breaking through a window and shimmying down the side of the building with a bedsheet.

After the escape, Stubblefield had new surveillance equipment installed. A corrections officer was suspended and criminally charged for allegedly falsifying records to say he had checked on each prisoner. Officials said he later admitted he had not, even though a nurse reported hearing loud sounds from the infirmary.

The escapees, Vernon L. Collins, 34, and David G. White, 33, in prison for separate assaults, were caught later that day.

"Inmates will always show you your weaknesses," Stubblefield told the Post-Dispatch at the time, in reference to the incident.

In 2010, two inmates accused of violent gun crimes slipped out of the Workhouse and were on the run for more than 12 hours before a police task force captured them.

Two corrections officers were placed on leave for breaking security protocols, including waiting for an hour before reporting the escape to police.

"The current system in the jails is unacceptable," Slay wrote on his blog Saturday. "Keeping the prisoners inside the jails is the barest minimum requirement, and it has not been met. Looking forward, changes are needed."

 

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Jennifer S. Mann is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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