CHICAGO — The Cook County Board has signed off on a $14 million payment to settle a class action lawsuit filed by a group of female assistant public defenders who alleged county officials failed to protect them from “heinous sexual misconduct” by male detainees at Cook County jail on an almost daily basis.
County commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to approve the settlement in Brown et al. v. Cook County et al., ending a suit brought more than three years earlier by a group of six women attorneys in the Cook County Public Defender’s Office.
The half-dozen longtime public defenders alleged masturbation, indecent exposure and threats were rampant. In some cases, according to the complaint, inmates at the jail grabbed, physically attacked or emitted bodily fluids on their female defense attorneys.
According to the lawsuit, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, Public Defender Amy Campenelli and other county officials incentivized inmates to “carry out a sustained campaign of sexual assaults, indecent exposure and masturbation incidents on female [assistant public defenders], including by their inaction and rewarding detainees with ‘pizzas’ for good behavior following masturbation incidents.”
The complaint alleged detainees who went 30 days without masturbating in front of their attorneys were eligible for pizza provided by the sheriff’s office.
Cara Smith, Dart’s chief policy advisor at the time, strenuously denied the public defenders’ pizza program allegation, calling it “absurd and a lie.”
Within three weeks of the filing of the federal class action complaint, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly issued an injunction ordering the sheriff’s office to require detainees to wear a special jumpsuit that restricts their hands at the first report of any indecent exposure.
Kennelly also ordered all detainees with reported incidents of misconduct to stay handcuffed with their hands behind their back.
“[T]he detainee sexual attacks substantially abated following implementation of these remedial measures, and the number of reported incidents dramatically declined after January 2018,” according to attorneys for the public defenders.
The judge also noted that the evidence he had seen showed that the pizza party described by the public defenders was “unauthorized and was, in fact, against jail policy; it was neither funded by the sheriff’s office nor endorsed by it.”
About $9.5 million of the money will be divided up among more than 530 women. The attorneys and the claims administrator are due to receive 30 percent of the settlement fund — $4.2 million, according to Kennelly’s order approving the settlement.
Each lead plaintiff named on the case will receive $25,000, those who gave depositions $15,000, $10,000 for those who answered questions under oath but were not deposed and $5,000 for those who assisted and provided sworn testimony.
According to the suit and past reports, a jailhouse gang called Savage Life had fueled the rise in sexual aggression against attorneys at the jail. The gang awards “points” to detainees for each incident of masturbation or assault, depending on how severe it is and which attorney is targeted, the suit alleged.
Savage Life, mostly members of various street gangs facing lengthy prison sentences, has been blamed for throwing feces and urine, attacking guards and taking hostages at the jail in recent years.
Two days after the public defenders filed their complaint and request for class action certification, a group of female guards at Cook County Jail also filed a federal class action lawsuit.
That, which remains pending, alleged that guards were routinely groped and grabbed, with one “confronted by an entire tier of detainees with their penises thrust through the ‘chuck holes’ in their cell doors.”
$14 Million Payout Ends Jail Masturbation Class Action Suit – Patch.com