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County moves to settle inmate beating lawsuit

Thursday, June 04, 2009
Chicago Tribune
by Tribune staff report

A Cook County Board subcommittee has recommended settling a lawsuit in the alleged mass beating of inmates at the county jail - an incident that has also drawn the attention of the FBI.

The board's finance litigation subcommittee today recommended approving a settlement of $750,000, according to the subcommittee chairman and a lawyer involved in the matter.

The lead plaintiff in the suit against the county filed in U.S. District Court was inmate Dwond Donahue, who was among more than a dozen inmates who claimed they were beaten in response to an inmate's attack on a jail officer in August 2006. The group claimed guards responded by clearing their tier in the jail's medium-security Division 5 of the jail and stomping and kicking them, causing broken bones, bruises and chipped teeth.
When they tried to seek medical attention, some were placed in isolation as punishment, the inmates claimed.

The $750,000 settlement, which will be sent to the full board for final approval, is among the largest county settlements in a jail incident.

"It was the recommended amount from the judge" who conducted settlement negotiations, said subcommittee Chairman Peter Silvestri (R-Elmwood Park).

"It's driven by the lack of conclusive facts, the presence of a federal investigation, which will prevent certain necessary facts from seeing the light of day in state court and the potential cost of litigation," Silvestri said.

There was no admission of wrongdoing in the case, but litigating it could have been prohibitively expensive and resulted in a verdict for either side, he added.

"We can all look at the same facts and come to separate conclusions," Silvestri said. "That's the problem."

Silvestri noted that both the state's attorney's and sheriff's office signed off on the settlement.
Donahue's attorney, Richard Dvorak, said evidence he gathered supported the inmates' version of events.

"The plaintiffs have alleged in this case that they were subjected to a mass beating and that essentially this was a jail guard riot in response to one of their own being beaten by an inmate," Dvorak said.

What followed was an unfortunate violation of inmate rights when guards chose to "beat up everyone on the tier just to try to get information on who beat up the officer," he said.

Dvorak has said FBI agents have interviewed a number of his clients.

The settlement comes in the wake of last summer's stinging federal report on the jail. The U.S. attorney's office in Chicago and the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division announced that a 17-month investigation of the sprawling Southwest Side complex found that inmates were systematically beaten by guards, left unsupervised to attack each other and provided with poor medical care.

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