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Cook County mulls $380K settlement in alleged jail sex assault of Minnesota woman

Wednesday, May 10, 2017
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

The Cook County Board on Wednesday is expected to approve paying $380,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by a Minnesota woman who alleged that sheriff's correctional officers and supervisors ignored her repeated complaints about being sexually assaulted and badly beaten during a 27-day stint behind bars.

According to the suit, filed by prominent attorney Kathleen Zellner, the then-26-year-old woman "experienced the full panoply of abuses that the well-established culture of sadism and violence (that the jail) had to offer."

The woman was booked into the County Jail in November 2013 on local drug charges and was awaiting extradition to another state on separate drug charges, the suit states. She was targeted by other detainees who labeled her with terms like "snow bunny, cracker and Pocahontas" after making "comments about her being cute and white," the lawsuit alleged.

After refusing to exchange sexual favors for commissary items, another female detainee charged with murder sexually assaulted the woman in a shower while two other detainees stood guard, according to the suit, which preserved the woman's anonymity by identifying her as "Jane Doe."

The woman repeatedly was kicked after that incident and later attacked twice because she was deemed a "snitch" for reporting the initial assault, the lawsuit states. She suffered a broken nose, busted tooth and a deep cut to her thigh from a sharp object during the last two attacks, the suit adds.

"All of this occurred with the full knowledge and complicity of the officers and their supervisors," the lawsuit states. The legal filing goes on to accuse a nurse and mental health specialists at Cermak Hospital, where jail detainees are treated, of fabricating reports that omitted the woman's sexual assault allegations and failing to document stitches she needed for wounds to her thigh and face.

The state's attorney's office recommended the settlement. Rarely does the County Board reject such a settlement once it has reached that stage. Cara Smith, the jail's former executive director who now is policy chief for Sheriff Tom Dart, made it clear that her office was conceding no wrongdoing in the matter.

"At the time the case was filed, continuing to the time that the decision by the state's attorney's office was made to settle this case, we have vehemently denied its allegations," said Smith, who initially was named in the lawsuit but later dismissed as a defendant. "We took no position on the settlement of the case."

Commissioner Peter Silvestri, R-Elmwood Park, who is chairman of the Finance Subcommittee on Litigation that reviewed the settlement, declined to comment on the specifics of the case. "We go to great lengths to do what's best for the county and taxpayers," he added.

Zellner also declined to comment.

hdardick@chicagotribune.com



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