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Sheahan foes seek probe of jail melee
Officers' response to fight questioned

Monday, October 18, 2004
Chicago Tribune
by Carlos Sadovi

Critics of the management of the Cook County Jail are raising questions about how effectively correctional officers responded to a fight between gangs that left at least six inmates hospitalized Saturday.

Rev. Harold Bailey, chairman of the Cook County Board of Corrections and an outspoken critic of Sheriff Michael Sheahan, on Sunday called for an investigation into why it took nearly 30 minutes to get the officers to break up a fight Saturday afternoon between rival gangs in Division 9, a maximum-security wing of the jail.

Bailey, who has sued Sheahan over the sheriff's appointment to head the jail, said the half hour it took guards to respond was too long.

"There is great concern. ... This event should serve as a wake-up call," he said.

Bailey said Saturday's incident showed the jail has been mismanaged at least since Sheahan appointed Callie Baird to run the facility last year.

But Sally Daly, a spokeswoman for Sheahan, called the officers' response Saturday "appropriate." Officials will review dozens of reports Monday to come up with a time line of the fighting and the response by officers after the melee started about 1:30 p.m., Daly said.

"There is no indication that there was any problem with the response time," she said.

The fight began in the dayroom of a third-floor tier that holds between 40 and 50 inmates, Daly said. About 21 inmates were injured in the fight, with six going to two hospitals. On Sunday, one inmate remained at Stroger Hospital, but a hospital official declined to give his condition.

A guard who was assigned to supervise the tier summoned help from his post outside the dayroom and waited for backup to arrive, Daly said. About 20 officers responded, she said.

Steven Calcaterra, a lawyer for the Metropolitan Alliance of Police, which represents the correctional officers, said that although he does not know the details of what happened Saturday, the incident shows staffing levels are too low.

The officer acted prudently to wait for backup before trying to stop the fight, Calcaterra said.

"If they are in a situation where they cannot control the situation, they can't stay in there," he said. "Every situation like that is a life-and-death situation for the officers."

Daly said the Sheriff's Department plans to conduct an investigation to determine which inmates were involved in the fight and would try to have them prosecuted. She said Bailey's criticisms stem from his opposition to Sheahan.

But Cook County Commissioner Michael Quigley, himself a Sheahan critic, has joined Bailey in calling for an investigation into the incident. Quigley said he is awaiting more information.

He also said, "this incident is not a surprise" to him given his concerns about Sheahan's leadership.

The management of the jail has come under harsh public criticism recently.

A report issued last month by a special grand jury investigating the beating of nearly 50 inmates by Special Operations Response Team officers in 1999 found "what appears to be blatant obstruction of justice" in an alleged coverup. The grand jury's 150-page report was forwarded to the U.S. attorney's office and Cook County State's Atty. Richard Devine for further investigation.

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