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Judge blasts sheriff’s office for negligence in teen rape case

Thursday, June 26, 2014
Chicago Sun-Times
by Stefano Esposito

A federal judge this week blasted Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart’s office, saying correctional officers’ “deliberate indifference” led to the sexual assault of a 16-year-old defendant mistakenly housed with adult inmates in 2008.

Even though the youth told sheriff’s personnel at least five times that he was under 17 — and therefore should have been in a juvenile lockup — he remained in the Cook County Jail for three days, U.S. District Court Judge Amy St. Eve wrote this week.

“Under the circumstances, the sheriff’s officers’ deliberate indifference led directly to the predictable consequence that the adult detainees physically harmed and raped the plaintiff,” St. Eve. wrote in a ruling rejecting the sheriff’s office’s attempts to have a lawsuit in the case thrown out.

The Sheriff’s Office said in a written statement that it "implements transparent policies and procedures and strives to protect" those in custody.

"We feel the ruling does not capture the realities of the day to day operations at the jail or the steps taken by staff to adhere to the law and protect youth-aged and adult detainees in our custody," the statement read. "Allegations of sexual impropriety of any nature are taken very seriously and are not tolerated. At this time we cannot disclose anything further as the case is pending."

The victim, now 22, is suing the sheriff’s office, saying he was left emotionally scarred by the incident, which allegedly occurred in May 2008 in Division 11 of the jail.

The youth was originally arrested in February 2008 and charged with armed robbery and aggravated vehicular hijacking, according to court documents. He appeared in court in Markham, where a judge ordered him transferred to Cook County juvenile detention. When the bus to take the youth to juvenile detention failed to arrive, sheriff’s officers took him to the adult jail instead, according to the lawsuit.

After failing to convince sheriff’s employees that he was a juvenile, the youth made a phone call in an attempt to get his mother to bring his I.D. to the jail. Later that day, the victim was allegedly sexually assaulted in the jail, according to the suit.

“All of these officers had plenty of time to look at the paperwork that he carried with him, each document having his birth date on it,” said Kellie Walters, a lawyer for the youth.

Walters said it appears the sheriff’s office has no policy in place to deal with youth offenders, who, as in this case, voluntarily appear in court wearing street clothes.

“It’s shocking and it’s frankly deplorable,” she said.

In her ruling, St. Eve wrote that it appears there’s a “protocol” in place to deal with defendants who claim to be juveniles.

“Yet in this matter, the sheriff’s officer did not notify a supervisor or double check the necessary paperwork, but instead accused the plaintiff of lying,” St. Eve wrote.

The youth ultimately pleading guilty in Markham in the armed robbery case and was sentenced to six years in prison, according to court records. He is now free and is now “trying” to get on his with his life, his attorney said.

No trial date has been set in the federal case.

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