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Chicago Settles Another Jail Brutality Suit for $362,500

On December 17, 2004, the Cook County Board's Litigation Sub-Committee approved a settlement of $362,000, including attorneys' fees, in a case involving brutality against a Cook County jail prisoner by the jail's infamous Special Operations and Response Team (SORT). We have previously reported the brutality of the guards in the Chicago jails. [PLN, Feb. 2004, p. 12; May 2005, p. 39].

Cello Pettiford, 46, was a jail prisoner the evening of February 24, 1999. He was in his cell making tea when a 40-man SORT led by Lt. Richard Remus entered his tier to conduct a shakedown. According to Pettiford, the shakedown was triggered by a gang-related stabbing that had occurred in his division three days earlier.

Pettiford alleged that two guards came into his cell and began to punch and slap him without provocation. He alleged he ran out of his cell, only to be rounded up along with other prisoners, all of whom were stripped shirtless, lined up, then assaulted by guards who walked down the line punching prisoners as they passed. The guards also allegedly threatened them with unmuzzled dogs.

Pettiford filed a civil rights suit in federal district court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Division IX superintendent James Edwards, SORT Commander Remus, Sheriff of Cook County Michael Sheahan, and Cook County, alleging excessive use of force and denial of medical care following the assault. He alleged a cover-up of the incident that was a part of an overall pattern at the jail and that he suffered injuries to the head and neck, unconsciousness, and bruising due to the, assault. He did not claim any permanent injuries.

The defendants claimed that Pettiford's cellmate, Leonard Stafford, stated under oath that Pettiford had faked the whole thing as part of a plan to extort money from Cook County. They also claimed that a Sheriff's Department investigator who had filed a report favorable to Pettiford had personal animosity toward Sheehan and had faked portions of the report.
The parties agreed to settle for $362,000, which included plaintiff's attorney fees due under 42 U.S.C. § 1988. The defendants did not admit liability and claimed they only settled because it would cost more to defend against the claims. Pettiford was represented by attorneys David J. Bradford, Jean Maclean Snyder, and David S. Weissman of Chicago. See: Pettiford v. Sheehan, USDC ND IL, Case No. 02-C-1777.

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Related legal case

Pettiford v. Sheehan