Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Illinois Sheriff Demotes One, Fires 3, Suspends 10 after Death of Jail Detainee

Lake County, Illinois Sheriff Mark C. Curran, Jr. demoted a jail supervisor and suspended ten guards over an incident in which a prisoner was paralyzed after an altercation with jailers and later died. Three other guards were fired. Curran took the disciplinary actions after an almost $2 million settlement in a lawsuit filed by the prisoner’s family.

Eugene Gruber, 51, had been arrested for disorderly conduct and criminal trespassing, and was intoxicated when he was booked into the Lake County jail on October 31, 2011. Official reports said that he was aggressive and uncooperative with guards. After being pepper-sprayed and allowed to shower to wash his eyes, he resisted changing into a jail uniform. He was then wrestled to the ground in a “takedown” hold by multiple jailers, which broke a vertebra in his neck and left him partially paralyzed.

The guards concluded he was not seriously injured; they propped him up for a mug shot, then dragged him to a cell where he received no medical attention for over 15 hours. A shift supervisor who came on duty the following morning finally had a nurse examine Gruber.

The nurse initially misdiagnosed his paralysis, accusing him of “faking.” Eventually, 24 hours after his altercation with the guards, Gruber’s condition was deemed serious enough for him to be taken to a hospital. After about five months at a medical rehab center, Gruber died as a result of spinal cord injuries in March 2012. [See: PLN, Oct. 2013, p.32].

Undersheriff Ray Rose said there had been a failure to supervise the guards responsible for the incident, stating the supervisor on duty at the time “did nothing” to properly oversee or investigate the incident. Attorney Terry Ekl, a former prosecutor, looked into the matter on behalf of the sheriff’s office and issued a report, for which he was paid $106,000. Fifteen jail employees were investigated. According to the sheriff, Ekl’s findings “strongly indicate[d] a practice and culture of poor supervision of employees and poor management strategies in the watch-care of inmates’ behavior.”

Following Gruber’s death, Sheriff Curran, who earlier in his term of office had locked himself in a jail cell so he could experience what incarceration felt like, appointed new supervisors, installed additional cameras, hired new medical staff and instituted new procedures. After reviewing the jail’s policies, six were modified and one was added to the department manual. The sheriff also earmarked roughly $1 million towards improving the jail’s video cameras and purchasing body cameras for guards to use.

“We need to have them so we have eyes everywhere because it’s for inmate protection and for correctional officers,” said Rose.

According to a November 24, 2015 article in the Chicago Tribune, the jail supervisor who was demoted sued Lake County alleging the disciplinary action taken against him was due to racial bias, not his involvement in Gruber’s death. While the white guards directly involved in the altercation were not initially disciplined, supervisor Lance Ware and another black guard were the only ones named in the first round of disciplinary actions. A white jail supervisor was eventually fired, too.

On April 21, 2016, former Lake County jail guard Rodney Holmes was found not guilty of official misconduct for failing to seek medical attention for Gruber. The judge found that Holmes, and another guard who faced criminal charges, were acting on the nurse’s misdiagnosis. The other jailer, Robert Schlesser, who also was charged with official misconduct, died before going to trial.

Holmes’ defense attorney argued that his client’s actions were no different than that of the other jail employees. Prosecutor Charles Zalar disagreed. “I’m charged with speeding, and my defense is everybody else is, therefore, I’m not guilty. That’s what he’s telling you,” said Zalar.

The nurse who misdiagnosed Gruber’s spinal injury was employed by the jail’s private health care provider, Correct Care Solutions. Lake County terminated its contract with the company following Gruber’s death, and awarded the $225,000 annual contract to Wexford Health Sources instead.

“I would like to apologize to the family of Eugene Gruber. I’m sad for the loss of his life,” Sheriff Curran stated in an interview.

“I feel good that Lake County has recognized its responsibility for the failures and are taking steps to fix it,” said Gruber’s cousin, Charles Gruber – a former police chief who consults with the U.S. Department of Justice on cases involving police misconduct. “I’m hopeful this is just a start.”

A wrongful death lawsuit filed by Gruber’s family settled in January 2014 for $1.95 million, following approval by the Lake County Board’s financial and administrative committee. The county’s insurance policy covered around $150,000 of the settlement; claims against Correct Care Solutions and its employees were settled separately under confidential terms in March 2015. See: Siwula v. Correct Care Solutions, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Ill.), Case No. 1:12-cv-02096.


As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Siwula v. Correct Care Solutions