‘They ripped me from the bench’: Police shown arresting jail oversight board member inside facility

Surveillance video shows the moment a Detention Facilities Oversight Board Member, was arrested inside the St. Louis City Justice Center in August.
Published: Sep. 13, 2023 at 10:36 AM CDT
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ST. LOUIS (KMOV/Gray News) - Surveillance video obtained on Tuesday shows the moment Detention Facilities Oversight Board member Janis Mensah was arrested inside the St. Louis City Justice Center in late August.

The video shows Mensah at the jail for an hour, being told multiple times to leave and then eventually getting pulled from a bench and taken to the ground.

“They ripped me from the bench that I was sitting on and threw me to the ground. That’s the period where I began to lose consciousness,” said Mensah.

The Detention Facilities Oversight Board is a group of city residents tasked with overseeing jail conditions and operations.

Mensah said they visited the justice center on Aug. 31, inquiring about Terrence Smith, a detainee who died after suffering a medical emergency in custody.

The death was the second one in less than two weeks and the ninth death at the jail in two years.

At the time, Mensah knew very little about the Smith death and was only told somebody was taken to the hospital.

“They really didn’t answer any of my questions,” said Mensah.

KMOV accessed the video through Missouri’s Sunshine Law Tuesday.

Multiple camera angles show Mensah hanging around the jail lobby for an hour. They said they were there for four to five hours.

From one angle, you can hear jail staff asking them to leave.

“Our lobby is closed right now,” said a staff member.

“Why are you still sitting in the lobby?” said another staff member minutes later.

Staff then asked if it was a protest; it’s unclear if Mensah responded to any of the questions.

Around 35 minutes later, you can see police arrive, make the arrest, pulling up the benches to grab Mensah before putting them on the ground.

You can later see Mensah’s limp legs drag behind them as they’re taken outside.

“Definitely not how I saw that visit going. But I think it really shows how uninvested they are in oversight and public transparency,” said Mensah.

There are two other camera angles, one where Mensah is sitting on the ground outside before going inside a police vehicle.

The other shows Mensah in the jail, with clear images of them, but there’s no audio, and the video cuts off 15 minutes before the arrest.

Mensah said they just wanted to look at surveillance video inside the master control center in the jail that day but couldn’t.

According to city law, members of the Detention Facilities Oversight Board “shall be provided access to City detention facilities at any time upon notice to the Commissioner and without conditions or requirements as to the timing or form of such notice.”

The ordinance later said Corrections Commissioner Jennifer Clemons-Abdullah must give written notice to the board on why access is being denied.

Mensah, who is cited for two infractions: trespassing and resisting arrest, said they want Clemons-Abdullah to resign and worry if leadership will ever make the jail better.

“Now more than ever, the city and the city government is not capable of overseeing itself,” said Mensah.

The city was asked why they released this surveillance video when they had not released video on the inmate deaths or the riot in August.

They said this particular incident is not a criminal or active investigation.

The city hasn’t responded on the question of why one of the surveillance videos cut off before the arrest.