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$750,000 Settlement in Chicago Jail Mass Beating Suit

On June 4, 2009, the finance litigation subcommittee of the County Board of Cook County, Illinois moved to settle a lawsuit over an alleged mass beating at the Cook County Jail.

In August 2006, Dwond Donahue, Jerome Fountain, Bernard Garcia, Darryl Johnson, Archie Mitchell, Bernard Rhone, Jarrod Rodriguez, Edward Sanders, Roberto Segura, Jamaar Turner, Raymont Davis and Eddie Macon were pretrial detainees incarcerated in Division V of the jail. According to the plaintiffs, another Division V prisoner severely beat a guard. Then, in an attempt to coerce information on who beat the guard, numerous other guards severely beat prisoners who had nothing to do with the guard’s beating. The beatings included kicking and stomping and caused injuries such as bruises, broken bones and chipped teeth. Beaten prisoners who asked for medical care were allegedly denied it and punished with solitary confinement.

The dozen plaintiff prisoners filed a civil rights suit in federal district court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The suit alleged that guard supervisors condoned and participated in the mass beatings and that former Cook County Sheriff Michael Sheahan promulgated policies that encouraged the beatings and failed to properly train the jail’s guards. It also alleged that evidence of the beatings was intentionally destroyed by the guard carrying the handheld videotape camera by pointing it away from the scene of the beatings when they were taking place. The policy of taping potential confrontations between guards and prisoners with a handheld videotape camera, instead of the fixed security cameras, allegedly encouraged abuse of prisoners by allowing the guard holding the camera to edit the tape by pointing the camera away when prisoners are abused by guards.

The FBI is investigating the mass beatings. In 2008, the U.S. Department of Justice-Civil Rights Division issued a scathing report on the jail’s Southwest Side Complex, finding that guards systematically beat prisoners, prisoners were left unsupervised--allowing them to attack each other--and prisoners received very poor medical care.

Subcommittee Chairman Peter Silvestri (R-Elmwood Park) said the settlement was “the recommended amount from the judge” and “driven by the lack of conclusive facts, the presence of a federal investigation, which will prevent necessary facts from seeing the light of day in state court and the potential cost of litigation.” Silvestri ignored the fact that the Department of Justice had already made factual determinations and that the suit was in federal, not state court. He continued with typical political obfuscation.

“We can look at the same facts and come to separate conclusions,” said Silvestri. “That’s the problem.”

Or, you can look at the same facts and decide that you had better settle quickly for three-quarters of a million dollars before a jury awards the plaintiffs a lot more of the Chicago taxpayers’ money. The state’s attorney and sheriff’s office have already signed off on the settlement. The reason is summed up nicely by Chicago attorney Richard Dvorak, who represents the plaintiffs.

“The plaintiffs have alleged that they were subjected to a mass beating and that essentially this was a jail guard riot in response to one of their own being beaten by an inmate.” In settling the suit, the defendants did not admit to any wrongdoing. See: Donahue v. Dart, U.S.D.C.-N.D. Ill. Eastern Div.), No. 07-C-4534.

Additional Source: Chicago Tribune,

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Related legal case

Donahue v. Dart

Please see the brief bank for documents related to this case.