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Cook County sheriff's officers are awarded $1.6 million in political retaliation case
Jury finds that special operations team was disbanded for backing Tom Dart's opponent in 2006

Tuesday, September 04, 2012
Chicago Tribune
by Annie Sweeney

A federal jury Tuesday awarded a combined $1.6 million in damages to 21 Cook County correctional officers after finding the sheriff's office retaliated against them for backing an opponent in 2006 when Sheriff Tom Dart first won election.

The lawsuit alleged that within days of Dart's election in November 2006, the Special Operations Response Team was disbanded for political reasons. All 21 officers were assigned to the unit and lost overtime and promotions as a result of the move, according to the lawsuit.

The 21 alleged they had supported Richard Remus, their former response team commander, in the March 2006 primary election. But he lost to Dart, who went on to win the general election.

In a strongly worded statement issued after the verdict, attorneys for the sheriff's office vowed an appeal, noting the response team's troubled history and that nearly all the officers still work for the sheriff's office.

"There is not one shred of evidence that supports the claim," said the statement from the sheriff's attorneys. "This case has never been about retaliation for violating someone's rights; this decision has always been about holding employees accountable for their actions and doing what is right. And that is why we feel very confident in appealing this decision."

Three years before the team was disbanded, the Tribune exposed how guards assigned to the unit invaded a maximum-security cellblock at the County Jail in 1999, beat inmates and then filed false reports to cover up the misconduct. Remus resigned from the department after the abuse was revealed.

Of the 21 officers, a sheriff's department spokesman said, six were accepted to the team that replaced SORT, six didn't apply and the remaining didn't qualify. All but two remain with the department, he said.

In the officers' statement, their attorneys said the replacement team, the Emergency Response Team, was "not as well trained or qualified as SORT, and it created an officer and public safety issue."

The jury returned its verdict after a week of deliberations.

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