Woman trapped in St. Louis jail stairwell for 2.5 days

Officials say she was told how to get out of the building but she got lost and ended up in a stairwell where all the doors were locked

Robert Patrick
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

ST. LOUIS — A woman was trapped in a St. Louis jail stairwell for more than two days after taking a wrong turn, the corrections commissioner told the Post-Dispatch Tuesday.

Commissioner Dale Glass said that the woman had been arrested and was being released from the St. Louis Justice Center at the time.

She got on an elevator on the second floor at 8:17 a.m. on June 5. She was discovered at 6:32 p.m. on June 7, he said.

Although “she appeared to be OK,” the woman was immediately seen by a nurse, he said. Staff called paramedics and gave her food and water, Glass said. He said the woman was asked if she wanted to go to the hospital. “She said, ‘No, I just want to go home,’” Glass said.

“We’re really sorry that this occurred, and we put precautions in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Glass said. “We never had this happen before.”

Glass said the woman had been told by staff how to get out of the building: “Go down the hall to the elevator. Go down to the first floor, make a right turn. Walk out of jail; you’re free to go.”

Instead, she got on the elevator, pushed all of the buttons and ended up on the fifth floor. She went through a fire exit door with a warning against entering, Glass said. Once inside, all doors on all floors were locked, including the ground-level exit door, Glass said. That door can be unlocked only by staff, he said.

Glass said the door alarm on the fifth floor had been disabled while some work was being done, and it had not been turned back on. If it had, he said, the woman would likely have been quickly found. Although she made noise while trapped, the jail is a noisy place, Glass said, and staff could not find the source of the noise she was making as she moved from floor to floor. They did not search the fire stairs, he said.

They finally found her, peering through the window of one of the doors, after eliminating all other sources of noise.

Glass said officials have now changed their protocols, including escorting people out of the building even though they are civilians and it is a public elevator on the public side of the jail, he said. The justice center, 200 South Tucker Boulevard, opened in 2002.

Glass refused to identify the woman or say why she was arrested because she was no longer an inmate. Glass said he did not know whether the woman had any underlying health issues.

The incident comes at a time when activists are campaigning to close the St. Louis Workhouse, another city jail that is also known as the Medium Security Institution, over allegations of inhumane conditions there. In St. Louis County, a police lieutenant has been appointed to take over jail operations in Clayton after a series of deaths there.


©2019 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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