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Suit: Cook County Jail inmates denied wheelchair accommodations

Thursday, January 29, 2015
Chicago Sun-Times
by Reema Amin

Two wheelchair-bound inmates at Cook County Jail filed separate federal lawsuits Thursday, claiming they have been denied a proper cell or medical treatment for their disabilities.

John Givens, 35, and Harold Vaughn, 54, filed their suits against Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and the county as a whole.

This is the second suit Givens has filed regarding a lack of wheelchair accessibility at the jail.

In Thursday’s suit, Givens claims medical personnel ordered he be provided a wheelchair and a cell accommodating his disability when he was first booked in May 2012 for a first-degree murder charge, according to the suit and the Cook County sheriff’s office website.

But it claims he has not received special housing, making it difficult for him use the bathroom, take a shower, get into his bed or access common areas — claims also alleged in his first lawsuit filed in February 2014.

Jail staff also made Givens roll his wheelchair up “an extremely steep and long ramp” that leads to the Cook County Criminal Court, where he has then held in a detention cell that does not have an accessible toilet for him, the suit alleges.

In August 2014, Givens claims he fell in the shower and broke his wrist because he did not have a functional shower chair. Medical staff said he needed to see an orthopedic surgeon, but he claims he has never received treatment.

Vaughn’s suit alleges he too has not received a wheelchair-accessible cell since he was booked in October 2012 for a predatory criminal sexual assault charge.

That suit also claims Vaughn hurt himself when he fell out of his wheelchair during a transport in summer or fall of 2014.

Vaughn said he is currently in the Residential Treatment Unit, or an area with ten cells that is designed for protective custody of inmates, including those in wheelchairs, the suit said. But Vaughn has allegedly been denied the right to live in the unit’s single cell designed for handicapped inmates.

Cara Smith, the jail’s executive director, said in a statement that inmates are properly cared for.

“While we have not had an opportunity to thoroughly analyze the complaints, we are confident in the care and accommodations we provide to detainees placed in our custody,” Smith said in the statement.

Both lawsuits filed Thursday claim the jail is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. They are demanding an unspecified amount in damages, plus legal fees.

Givens was first charged after he and two accomplices allegedly tried robbing a Little Village neighborhood business in April 2012, authorities said at the time. The three were eventually shot by Chicago Police officers when trying to escape, and suspect David Raynell Strong died from the gunshot wounds, authorities said.

Givens and accomplice Leland Dudley were both charged with a range of offenses, including burglary and murder ­— because Strong’s death happened during the commission of their alleged crime, police said.

Givens and Dudley had also filed a lawsuit against the city of Chicago on that matter in 2012, claiming they were unarmed when police shot them.

Information on Vaughn’s alleged offenses was not available.

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