Inmates injured in jail shootingOrigin of gun is under investigation
Friday, February 03, 2006
by Carlos Sadovi and Mickey Ciokajlo
Tribune staff reporters Jeff Coen and David Heinzmann contributed to this report
Cook County sheriff's officials Thursday were investigating a serious security breach that resulted in a gun being fired in a maximum-security division of County Jail.
Three inmates suffered minor injuries in the shooting, and no guards were threatened with the gun, an older model .32-caliber snub-nosed revolver, sheriff's officials said.
For a county department plagued in recent years by allegations of abuse by guards, frequent inmate stabbings and illegal strip searches, Wednesday's shootings raised to a new level concerns about security in the jail.
"Obviously that constitutes a significant breach ... and that's our No. 1 concern right now," said Bill Cunningham, a spokesman for Sheriff Michael Sheahan.
Cunningham said the sheriff's police are investigating the shooting, while the jail's internal affairs division is investigating how the gun got inside.
Sheriff's officials and an expert on the jail could not recall a firearm ever being discharged inside the facility, which typically houses around 10,000 inmates.
Charles Fasano, of the prison watchdog group John Howard Association, said he could only recall three or four incidents over the last 30 years of a gun getting inside secure portions of the jail.
"It is very rare. Not only at Cook County but most places," Fasano said.
"You never bring a weapon into the jail. ... It's very dangerous. The philosophy is this: If I have a gun and an inmate gets the gun, then you have a problem."
Last week, a Cook County jury convicted jail guard Kenyatta Sanders of attempting to smuggle a .38-caliber revolver into the jail in 2003.
In 1984, six inmates escaped when they overpowered guards using two revolvers that were smuggled into the jail by a paramedic. The paramedic had hidden the guns inside a blood pressure kit.
Investigators looking into Wednesday's shootings will probe whether a guard or another employee smuggled the weapon into the jail, Cunningham said.
"That's something we'll pursue," he said.
Last summer, inmate Randy Rencher walked out of the jail wearing a guard's uniform and went on a multistate bank-robbing spree. After he was caught in Ohio, Rencher claimed that he bribed a jail guard who aided him in his escape.
Cunningham said Thursday that the sheriff's office was still waiting for Rencher to agree to be interviewed about the allegation. He also said the sheriff's office has not turned up evidence that guards helped Rencher.
The shooting could have ramifications in next month's Democratic primary election for sheriff. Sheahan is retiring.
Richard Remus, a former jail official running for the position, said the shootings highlight security problems in the jail.
"It scares the crap out of me that a weapon's getting in the jail," said Remus, noting the unarmed guards carry only handcuffs and radios. "If the gun was in the wrong hands, they could have taken the whole building."
Remus headed a special operations unit that was accused of abusing inmates in a 1999 shakedown. Remus has denied that he harmed inmates, although he invoked the 5th Amendment against self-incrimination when he was called before a grand jury, which later concluded that abuse did occur.
Sylvester Baker Jr., another candidate for sheriff, called it "another instance of public corruption," saying that by all appearances a jail employee likely aided in bringing the weapon into the facility.
Tom Dart, Sheahan's chief of staff and the Democratic Party's endorsed candidate, said the incident underscores the jail's need for more guards.
"We need more people to adequately secure that building," said Dart, noting a federal judge's insistence that the county hire more guards this year.
Mike Quigley, a Cook County commissioner who has been outspoken on jail issues, said, "It's not a question of the right number of jail guards but the right kind of jail guards."
In a statement issued Thursday afternoon, Sheahan said investigators were trying to determine who fired the weapon. He said they had not ruled out the possibility that one of the injured inmates fired the gun.
"The superficial nature of the injuries [raises] questions about who actually fired the weapon and what their motives were," the statement said.
Injured in the shooting were Gregory Sherman, 27, of Chicago; Terry Martin, 28, of Dolton; and Lorenzo Evans, 27, of Chicago.
Sherman, who was awaiting sentencing for armed robbery and other convictions, suffered a grazed elbow.
Martin, awaiting trial for murder, was shot in the upper calf. Evans, also in on murder charges, was shot in the left thigh. All three men were treated at nearby hospitals and released.
A guard found the three men, who shared a cell, lying on the deck of the second floor outside the cell, sheriff's officials said. The cell's lock had been intentionally jammed open, officials said.
The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is attempting to trace the origin and ownership of the FIE Titanic revolver.