Guard: Escape an inside job
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
by FRANK MAIN, STEFANO ESPOSITO AND NATASHA KORECKI
A Cook County Jail guard has admitted to investigators that he helped six inmates escape over the weekend to give a political advantage to a former jail supervisor running for sheriff, a law enforcement source said Monday.
The 36-year-old guard confessed that he allowed a convicted killer, two accused robbers and two others charged with aggravated kidnapping and battery to bust out of the jail to cast a shadow on Sheriff Michael Sheahan's management of the complex at 26th and California.
The guard knew the negative publicity would hurt Sheahan's chief of staff, Tom Dart, who is running for sheriff, the source said.
And the guard admitted he helped engineer the escape to give a political boost to Richard Remus, a candidate in the Democratic primary election and the former leader of the jail's Special Operations Response Team, the source said. The guard is a member of the SOR T unit.
Remus denied any involvement in the plot, and a law enforcement source said there was no evidence connecting him to it.
"They're trying to insinuate this was done politically," Remus said. "None of them would ever let an inmate out of jail to help me. I would never sacrifice anybody for this election. This is total Cook County political bull----."
'Worst of the worst'
If a guard said he was working for Remus' campaign, then he was pressured to do so, Remus said.
"They had him for 48 hours and finally they convinced him what he should say," Remus said.
The guard being questioned had worked for him at the jail, Remus said, b ut they are "absolutely not" friends.
"I've never had a drink with him, and I've never been to a ball game with him," Remus said.
Remus said he contacted the FBI on Monday to say he did nothing wrong.
Dart, a former prosecutor and legislator, said, "The state's attorney's office is handling this case, and I'm certainly not going to comment on an on-going investigation. I don't know what [Remus] is talking about."
One candidate running to succeed Sheahan tried Monday to make political hay out of this weekend's jailbreaks.
"This was a chance for Tom Dart to show his leadership skills, not to hide under a rock," former jail guard Sylvester Baker said of Sheahan's hand-picked successor.
At least two other guards, including a sergeant as well as three civilians, also are under investigation for possibly helping the inmates escape, sources said.
The 36-year-old guard -- a former U.S. Marine and 11-year veteran of the county jail -- was appr oached by at least one other correctional officer who "suggested he participate in this type of situation and that inmates on that tier already were talked to about this plan," a source said.
The guard originally told investigators an inmate overpowered him in a shower at knifepoint after splashing hot soapy water in his face.
Later, the guard allegedly told investigators he handcuffed himself and allowed the inmate to don his uniform as part of the escape from the SI2 Special Incarceration Unit, reserved for the jail's "worst of the worst."
Sally Daly, a spokeswoman for the sheriff, would not comment on the allegations against the guard.
Sheahan would say only that, "I felt procedural-wise, he made a mistake; he was by himself," adding that investigators were scrutinizing whether the guard offered a legitimate level of resistance.
The inmates set fire to a mattress and flooded their tier with fire hoses to create a diversion, authorities said. Tw o correctional officers rushed to the tier. Patrell Doss, the inmate dressed in the guard's uniform, identified himself as the guard and asked them to open the door. They overpowered the guards, swiped keys from their post and escaped. Doss, however, was captured before he could leave the jail.
Two inmates, Arnold Joyner and David Earnest, apparently hopped on a Union Pacific train to Oak Park, where they were apprehended Sunday morning. A third escapee, Michael McIntosh, was nabbed Sunday night on the South Side.
Three others holed up in an apartment in Cicero, where Francisco Romero surrendered Sunday night and Tyrone Everhart and Eric Bernard surrendered early Monday.
Investigators were questioning two women and a man who may have assisted the three inmates in fleeing to Cicero, officials said.
Aiding the escapees
The trio of escapees wound up at the Cicero apartment with a 27-yea r-old woman and her five children, leading to almost six hours of negotiations between the inmates and a sheriff's lieutenant to end a tense standoff.
The mother knew the brother of Romero, a convicted murderer, Sheahan said. He said investigators were trying to determine if the woman was a victim or was helping the escapees. He said she was in "custody" and the Cook County state's attorney's office was reviewing possible charges Monday. Authorities were questioning a female friend of the 27-year-old mother to see if the friend had picked up the escapees in the neighborhood near the jail at 26th and California, a law enforcement source said, adding that a man also was being interviewed for possibly aiding the escapees.
A roommate of the 27-year-old mother escaped from the back door of the Cicero apartment and called police at 9:12 p.m. Sunday. The mother introduced the inmates to her roommate as her "friends from Cleveland," but he recognized their mug shots from TV and feared for his life, Sheahan said, praising the man for tipping police to the fugitives.
Sheriff's Lt. LaChom "Red" Madison negotiated with the inmates until the last of them surrendered and the five children and their mother were out of the house.
He primarily spoke with Everhart, whose estranged father is a captain in the jail. Everhart was facing charges of aggravated kidnapping.
"They did at one point admit they had some kids they were holding," said Madison, who has handled 12 hostage negotiations without anyone getting hurt. Everhart insisted he did not intend to harm the children, Madison said. When Madison was asked what he felt when the last two escapees surrendered about 3 a.m. Monday, he said simply, "Relief. Relief."
The four girls and boy, whose ages range from 1 to 8, were placed in the custody of their father after state child welfare workers determi ned they were unharmed, said Dan Proft, a Cicero spokesman. The father told reporters his children watched TV during the ordeal. He said their mother would not have knowingly helped criminals, and a sister-in-law of Romero had dropped the three inmates off at the apartment. Investigators think the inmates had been at another home in Cicero before they wound up at 1321 S. 59th, the site of the standoff.
Sunday's jail escape was the third there in 10 months. In response to his political detractors, who say the jail is mismanaged, Sheahan said he has operated the jail for 10 years without an escape before last year and has battled with the County Board to increase staffing levels in the jail.
Contributing: Annie Sweeney, Lisa Donovan and Abdon M. Pallasch