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Sources: Officer says guard asked to help

Thursday, February 16, 2006
Chicago Sun-Times
by FRANK MAIN Crime Reporter

Cook County Jail correctional officer Darin Gater has told prosecutors that another guard approac hed him roughly 10 days before the weekend escape of six inmates and asked if he would help with the breakout, sources said.
In a written statement he gave to a prosecutor Sunday afternoon, Gater said he knew an escape would make Sheriff Michael Sheahan look bad and could give sheriff's candidate Richard Remus a boost in an upcoming election, the sources said.

Gater allegedly said it would be good for him and fellow Special Operations Response Team members if Remus were elected because they would probably be able to do "more street-type work."

Gater spoke about the political implications of the escape with another guard and a sergeant, the sources said.

Confession forced, lawyer says
Remus, the former head of SORT who resigned in 2003 after he was accused of abusing inmates, denied he was involved in the escape and said he cannot believe a guard would participate in an escape on his behalf. He is running against Tom Dart, who is Sheahan's chief of staff, and Sylvester Baker Jr., a former jail guard.

Wednesday, a judge ordered Gater, 36, held on $500,000 bail on charges related to the escape. He was released late Wednesday after his family posted the money.

"I'm innocent,'' said Gater. ''I just want to get home to my family. I'm tired, I'm hungry, and that's it.''

His attorney insists Gater's alleged confession was coerced.

Also Wednesday, Anna and Jose Romero were charged with aiding four of the six escapees: Michael McIntosh, Francisco Romero, Eric Bernard and Tyrone Everhart. Francisco Romero is a sibling of the Romeros.

The inmates were still in their tan jail uniforms near the jail complex at 26th and California when Anna Romero received a phone call at about 5 a.m. Sunday from one of the escapees and picked them up, prosecutors said.

She d ropped off McIntosh at a South Side home, prosecutors said. He was arrested Sunday night in the 10600 block of South Aberdeen.

'This was the night'
Then she drove the other three to her home in Cicero. But her husband, Jose Romero, came out to the car and said they could not stay there because a sheriff's employee lived in the neighborhood, prosecutors said. So they allegedly committed a home invasion in Cicero and held five children and their mother hostage until the standoff ended peacefully at 3 a.m. Monday and the inmates were arrested.

The other two escapees were arrested Sunday morning in Oak Park.
The 27-year-old mother of the five children was released from custody after authorities determined she did not assist the escapees, authorities said.
Also Wednesday, prosecutors were preparing to charge one of the escapees, Bernard, with battery to a peace officer after he allegedly tosse d urine in a guard's face during a "head count" about 11 p.m. Tuesday in the Division 9 maximum-security unit of the jail.

Bernard was banging on his cell to agitate his fellow inmates when the officer was assaulted, said sheriff's spokeswoman Sally Daly. Officers videotaped his removal to prove he was not harmed, Daly said. Bernard was given a psychiatric evaluation and was returned to the cell, she said.

Six correctional officers, including Gater, have been suspended as the investigation into the escape continues. One focus of the probe is whether a SORT sergeant ignored a tip Saturday afternoon from a jail captain that McIntosh was planning to escape and that he might be armed with a knife, authorities said.

The jail captain who received the tip from Chicago Police at about 3:35 p.m. Saturday was given a lie-detector test and passed, sources said. Investigators said they think the captain passed on the tip to the sergeant, the sources said. Investigators are focusing on what the SORT sergeant did with the information.

At the bond hearing Wednesday, prosecutors did not discuss Gater's alleged political motive for aiding the escape. Gater was informed Saturday night by an inmate that "this was the night selected for the escape," prosecutor Jim Knibbs said.

Thought inmate was guard
Gater allegedly allowed another inmate to take a shower long before the allowed time for showering. He unshackled the inmate and removed his handcuffs. Then he went into the shower, and the inmate tossed some type of substance toward him. Gater handcuffed himself, Knibbs said.

Gater's keys to the SORT command post and his radio were on a desk in the Si2 Special Incarceration Unit reserved for the "worst of the worst" inmates, Knibbs said. The inmate unlocked the other inmates' cells, then uncuffed Gater, who took off his SORT uniform and boots and ID. One of the inmates put on Gater's clothes, and Gater went into an empty cell, where he was handcuffed to a bar and his legs were shackled, Knibbs said.

The inmate in Gater's uniform knocked on the locked door leading from the tier, Knibbs said. A guard looked through an opening in the door, saw the uniformed inmate and opened the door, thinking the inmate was a guard.

The inmates, who set fire to a mattress in the tier, attacked the responding guards with "belly chains" and a wooden cane, and they displayed homemade knives, Knibbs said. They used Gater's keys to escape from the building, he said.

Contributing: Annie Sweeney



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