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Cook County Jail detainee dies of COVID-19

Tuesday, April 07, 2020
Chicago Tribune
by Megan Crepeau Jason Meisner

A 59-year-old detainee of the Cook County Jail died Sunday, likely due to complications of COVID-19, according to the sheriff’s office.

It is believed to be the first such death of a detainee since the pandemic hit the facility last month.

“As far as I know, this is the only death of a client being held at the Cook County Jail due to COVID-19,” Public Defender Amy Campanelli wrote in an email to staffers Monday evening obtained by the Tribune. “I hope it is the last.”

According to the sheriff’s office, Jeffery Pendleton was booked into the jail in July 2018 to await trial on charges including armed habitual criminal and armed violence. He was taken to Stroger Hospital on March 30 after testing positive for COVID-19, and he died Sunday night.

He was one of 14 detainees being treated at outside hospitals for the virus; as of Sunday evening there were 220 other detainees with confirmed infections being treated for “mild-to-moderate” symptoms at the jail, the sheriff’s office said.

“Everything sheriff’s officers and county medical professionals have done since before the virus started spreading in the Chicago area was in an effort to prevent the loss of life to this deadly virus,” the statement read.

Public defenders argued for Pendleton’s release on bond at a hearing March 26, but a judge denied their request.

The Chicago Community Bond Fund released a statement Monday saying “Cook County officials have blood on their hands.”

“Every loss of life from COVID-19 that occurs in a county jail, juvenile detention center, prison, or immigrant detention center, was a death that was likely preventable,” the statement read.

Pendleton was locked up on a $50,000 bond and would have needed $5,000 for release, according to the sheriff’s office.

He had 15 previous convictions, including a 1997 conviction for aggravated criminal sexual assault that required him to register as a sex offender, the office said in a statement.

On Twitter, Campanelli, without naming Pendleton, reminded readers that “he was and always will be presumed innocent.”

“He died awaiting for his day in court,” she wrote. "He should have been sent home.”

Campanelli and other county authorities have pushed hard in recent weeks to reduce the jail population amid the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, the jail population has plunged to its lowest level in memory -- 4,567 detainees as of Monday.

So far, 234 detainees and 78 staff members in the jail had tested positive for the virus, according to the sheriff’s office. The status of inmates there has become controversial as it has spread.

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A federal lawsuit filed Friday demanded the immediate release of medically vulnerable inmates there and alleged failures by Sheriff Tom Dart to stop the spread of the COVID-19. The suit called the virus in the jail a “rapidly unfolding public health disaster.”

The suit seeks class-action status for all of the jail’s detainees and also a temporary restraining order that would result in the immediate release of any prisoner whose constitutional rights are being violated by their continued detention amid the coronavirus crisis.

Over the weekend, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly agreed to an expedited timetable for the litigation and scheduled a hearing for Tuesday. Dart repeatedly has defended his handling of the crisis.

The lawsuit largely mirrors three separate actions filed last week seeking the release of thousands of state prison inmates due to the spread of COVID-19 in lockups across the state.Unlike the suits against the Illinois Department of Corrections, however, the plaintiffs in the new lawsuit are pretrial detainees who have not been convicted of any crime and are afforded the presumption of innocence.

mcrepeau@chicagotribune.com



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