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Cook sheriff's deputies 'targets' of federal grand jury

Friday, August 29, 2008
Daily Herald
by Rob Olmstead

Several Cook County Sheriff's deputies have received "target letters" from the U.S. attorney's office, indicating they are the targets of a federal criminal investigation into alleged civil rights violations at the jail in August 2006.

Additionally, other deputies not targeted by the U.S. attorney's office have been subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury investigating a series of events occurring Aug. 16, 2006, at the jail.

The investigation stems from the aftermath of what Cook County prosecutors call an inmate's attempted murder of jail Officer William Baker. According to county prosecutors, Baker went to a "day room" to ask inmate Maeceo Dickey if he needed medical attention, and was then overpowered by Dickey, who repeatedly pounded Baker's head into the floor.

Responding officers are accused in a federal civil lawsuit filed by attorney Richard J. Dvorak of then beating not only Dickey but other nearby inmates not involved in the attack. Dickey's criminal case is pending before Cook County Judge James Obbish. A status date is scheduled for Sept. 29.

News of the target letters and grand jury subpoenas were revealed in public court papers filed last month as part of the civil suit, although news of the investigation has been public for some time.

"No comment," said U.S. Attorney spokesman Randy Samborn, when asked Thursday about the investigation.

Steve Patterson, a spokesman for the Cook County Sheriff's Office also declined to comment.

Among the pieces of evidence the U.S. Attorney likely has, court filings indicate, is a videotape made of the aftermath of the attack on the jail officer. Some faces can be seen on the tape, and "audio can be heard of certain Sheriff's Officers making rather incriminating statements," wrote Dvorak. A later filing alleges officers told the officer making the tape to turn it off and then covered the lens with their hands.

Dvorak also declined to elaborate on any of the public filings when contacted Thursday.

The recent filings discussing the case revolve around whether officers involved in the case should be made to answer questions in the civil case while the criminal investigation is pending. While officers have a right to refuse to answer questions in the civil case for fear of those comments being used against them in the criminal case, the option puts officers in a tight spot because a civil court jury could then interpret that lack of comment as an inference of guilt.

The sheriff's office had sought a delay in deposing the officers, but Dvorak argued that would prevent him from finding and adding defendants to the suit before the two-year statute of limitations was up.

A July 31 minute order by U.S. District Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Cole indicated a compromise was reached allowing the deposition of just two officers. On Aug. 15, Dvorak filed a new complaint, adding 10 new defendants, bringing the total to 20.



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