Jail guards blame bosses
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
by STEVE PATTERSON Staff Reporter
Breaking their silence, four suspended Cook County Jail guards say they knew nothing of a plan for six inmates to escape and deny they played any role in it.
Instead, they say a supervisor -- tipped to the escape plan by Chicago Police -- failed to authorize a shakedown of inmate cells or even follow up with the guards about what to do about the tip.
At least one of the suspended guards claims a captain told him an inmate could have a knife, but never said anything about an escape attempt. The guard says he waited the rest of his shift for orders to come for a shakedown of cells, but the order never came.
"He's not allowed to go in and shake down a cell without a supervisor's permission," said attorney Christopher Mammel, who is representing the four guards and gave their side of the story to the Chicago Sun-Times Monday.
"[The captain] never came back to authorize him to do anything," added attorney Dana Kurtz, also representing the guards.
The guards, among six suspended in the aftermath of the Feb. 11 escape, also claim the jail was so short-staffed that night, there were no supervisors on duty.
"Ultimately, it was the failure to properly staff this unit that allowed these inmates to escape," said Mammel.
Sheriff's spokesman Bill Cunningham acknowledged problems with staffing that night. "There's no question that's a factor in everything that happens at the jail and we're particularly short-staffed at night."
Lie detector tests
But he insisted the supervisor who learned of the tip followed all proper procedures after receiving the information. He added that the supervisor consented to -- and passed -- a lie detector test.
"The same can't be said for some of those under suspension," Cunningham said, refusing to give details.
Kurtz countered that the lie detector tests appeared to have been administered improperly to the guards.
Darin Gater, a jail correctional officer, was charged last week with helping the inmates escape. He has told prosecutors that another guard approached him roughly 10 days before the escape and asked if he would help with the breakout, sources said.
The four suspended guards insist Gater hadn't been talking to them, and add that they haven't been told why they're off the job.
Crime scene not preserved?
Gater also allegedly gave a statement to investigators saying an escape would make Sheriff Michael Sheahan look bad and could aid sheriff's candidate Richard Remus in his campaign. Gater worked for Remus when the sheriff's candidate was head of the jail's Special Operations Response Team.
Two of the guards acknowledge they're involved in the Remus campaign. Kurtz and Mammel are representing Remus in a wrongful termination case against the county.
Gater now says his statement to investigators was coerced after more than 24 hours of questioning without an attorney present.
The four suspended guards -- each a SORT member -- say they, too, were held and questioned for more than 24 hours without an attorney and also say they were never read their rights and were assured they didn't need a lawyer.
Cunningham insisted the guards were told of their rights. And while the guards are suspended pending a criminal investigation into the escape, "that doesn't mean they'll be charged criminally or even administratively," he said. "That possibility exists, but we just thought it would be prudent to do this while it's under investigation."
But the guards say they couldn't have helped in the escape because they weren't scheduled to be in the jail when it happened -- each of them had shifts ending at 10 p.m. When the escape happened, closer to midnight, only one of the four was on duty, as he had been asked to work overtime.
If not for that voluntary shift, only two guards would have been on that tier that night, Mammel said.
The guards also complained that the area where the escape occurred was not preserved as a crime scene.
Cunningham insists it was, saying pictures were taken, the area was taped off and evidence technicians worked the scene for about an hour before it was cleaned up.