A paraplegic man sentenced to serve 100 years in prison for his role in the 2014 slaying of 14-year-old Endia Martin won a partial legal victory this week over conditions at the Cook County jail.
Donnell Flora, 28, was convicted in January 2016 of Endia’s first-degree murder and the attempted first-degree murder of her friend, Lanekia Reynolds. Prosecutors said he handed a gun to another girl, who was then 14, and she used it to kill Endia. Authorities filed criminal charges against Flora days after the April 28, 2014, shooting in the Back of the Yards.
But on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly sided with Flora on claims that before his conviction, Flora was denied access at the Cook County jail to a toilet and shower that were compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Flora was paralyzed in a shooting in 2010 and uses a wheelchair. He is now serving his prison sentence at Pinckneyville Correctional Center in southern Illinois, records show.
In his 21-page ruling, Kennelly implicated Sheriff Tom Dart, as well as Dart’s staff, finding that Dart had been alerted to Flora’s needs. The sheriff and his staff were aware that some wheelchair users, including Flora, “were being assigned to rooms that did not have accessible toilets,” the judge wrote.
“Despite knowledge that Flora’s rights were being violated, the sheriff failed to address the violations,” Kennelly wrote. “Flora was denied access to an ADA-compliant toilet and shower for approximately four months.”
Cara Smith, the sheriff’s chief policy officer, said Thursday she was “not aware of any evidence to suggest that the sheriff had personal knowledge of this case.”
“We strive to provide whatever accommodations the detainees remanded to the jail need,” Smith said, “and we’ll be digesting this decision and its impact on our operations.”
Flora had argued he was assigned in 2014 to rooms that lacked grab bars near the toilet and mounted seats in the shower, and he was “unable to use the jail’s toilets and showers on his own without the risk of injuring himself.” The judge found that Flora made the sheriff aware of his need for special accommodations.
The judge wrote that the sheriff’s policies “required (Flora) to get assistance from a nurse or an officer in order to use the bathroom or shower and thus rendered him completely dependent on others to perform these necessary activities. No reasonable fact finder could determine this constituted equivalent access.”
Flora’s attorney, Patrick W. Morrissey, also wrote in a court filing last fall that Flora was “dependent on other inmates to place him on the cell toilet because he was unable to transfer independently.”
The judge did not side with Flora on similar claims regarding conditions at the George N. Leighton Criminal Court Building at 26th and California. The judge is expected to set a trial date for Flora’s remaining claims next week. Damages are expected to be determined at trial.