Jailbreak tip raises questionJohn Howard official critical of captain's lack of follow-up
Friday, February 17, 2006
by Mickey Ciokajlo and Jeff Coen
The sheriff's captain who forwarded to a sergeant a tip that an inmate armed with a knife was plotting an escape from the Cook County Jail should have followed up to make sure the inmate's cell was searched, an expert who monitors the jail said.
Chicago police told jail officials about the tip at about 3:30 p.m. Saturday, more than eight hours before six inmates escaped from the maximum-security Special Incarceration Unit.
Sheriff's officials say the captain acted appropriately by forwarding the information, which included the inmate's name and location in the jail, to the sergeant working the tier.
But Charles Fasano, an official with the John Howard Association, which monitors the jail, said that guards in the unit should have then searched the inmate's cell.
Fasano said the captain should have checked in later with the sergeant to learn the results of the search.
"You'd want to call back and say what did you find?" Fasano said. "Did you find a knife?"
The lack of a follow-up raises questions about whether the escape could have been prevented even though the inmates allegedly had help from a correctional officer who since has been criminally charged.
Jail guard Darin Gater was charged Wednesday with aiding the escape of the six inmates, all of whom were later recaptured.
Sheriff Michael Sheahan said Gater gave a written statement claiming to have plotted the escape in order to embarrass Sheahan and his chief of staff, Tom Dart, who is running for sheriff in the March 21 Democratic primary. Gater allegedly wanted to help the candidacy of Richard Remus, his former boss who left the sheriff's office in 2003 and is running against Dart.
Sheahan said he doesn't believe Remus had any knowledge of the escape plot.
Gater's lawyer said interrogators coerced the guard into making the statement and said the theory of a political motive was ridiculous.
Five other guards, including the sergeant who received the tip, have been suspended with pay pending the investigation.
Investigators have been trying to determine whether Gater acted alone, with a few other guards or if there was a wider conspiracy.
Sources said investigators were sifting through what took place and the general handling of Division 1, which houses the Special Incarceration Unit, supposedly the jail's most-secure location.
Investigators are trying to discern what conduct might be general sloppiness or dereliction of duty among guards, and what might be evidence of someone purposefully allowing the escape to take place.
In addition to Gater, three people on the outside who are accused of assisting in the escape have been charged. A brother and sister of inmate Francisco Romero were charged Wednesday with aiding the escape, and on Thursday the brother's girlfriend, Michelle Reyes, was ordered held in lieu of $200,000 bail on the same charge.
Assistant State's Atty. Jim Knibbs told Criminal Court Judge Raymond Myles that 27-year-old Reyes, of the 3700 block of 60th Court in Cicero, drove three of the inmates, including Romero, to the Cicero home of an acquaintance. The men stayed in the home--at times watching news reports about themselves--before authorities caught up with them late Sunday, Knibbs said.
The sheriff's office said Thursday the escape occurred at about 11:55 p.m. Saturday and External Operations, which guards the grounds and the jail's perimeter, were notified at 12:01 a.m.
Cunningham said there was an initial belief the inmates were still inside Division 1. After it was determined they were not there, jail officials called Chicago police at 12:24 a.m., Cunningham said.