A former inmate claims correctional officers turned a blind eye while she was being sexually and physically assaulted by other detainees at Cook County Jail last year, according to a federal lawsuit.
A jail official called the lawsuit’s claims “outrageous.”
The plaintiff, an 27-year-old woman from Minnesota who filed the suit anonymously, claims she was arrested on drug charges and booked in Cook County Jail on Nov. 21, 2013. Those drug charges, the suit claims, were dismissed Dec. 4, 2013, but she was held at the jail until Dec. 15, 2013, while awaiting extradition to another state on unrelated, non-violent drug charges.
She was booked as a minimum-security inmate, but because the jail did not have space in a minimum-security unit, she was initially placed in a maximum-security unit, according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court.
It was in that maximum-security unit that the woman was sexually assaulted, harassed and beaten more than once by other inmates, the suit alleges.
The suit also claims that correctional officers repeatedly displayed indifference and ignored the woman’s allegations.
In one incident, on Nov. 23, 2013, the woman was sexually assaulted in the shower and when she reported it to a correctional officer, the officer said she would “take care of it,” the suit claims.
But the officer did not separate the woman from her attacker and “jokingly told [the attacker], ‘stay out of trouble,’ which clearly notified [the attacker] that [the woman] had reported what had happened,” the suit claims.
When the officer returned to her cubicle, the attacker and three other inmates each grabbed the woman by a limb, carried her underneath stairs and kicked her repeatedly in the face, stomach and shoulders, the suit alleges.
When the officer responded to the beating, the inmates dispersed and the woman “not wanting to be publicly identified as a ‘snitch’ asked if she could speak to [the officer] privately,” the suit claims. But the officer refused, and also told the woman “that she was going to assume that [the woman] was fine and expressed relief that she would not have to do any paperwork to document the beating.”
The woman was also told she couldn’t go to the infirmary because it “was very busy and they would not see her unless she ‘was dying,’” according to the suit.
In another incident, on Nov. 26, 2013, other inmates knocked part of the woman’s tooth out, lacerated her chin and broke her nose, the suit claims. Later that day, other detainees also put hair removal product, Nair, in the woman’s food.
On Nov. 27, 2013, an inmate pulled a patch of hair from the woman’s head and another detainee slashed the woman’s thigh with a razor, the suit claims.
When the woman reported these abuses, officers did not file incident reports and no inmates were disciplined, the suit alleges.
It wasn’t until Dec. 2, 2013, after the woman’s sister complained, that she was moved to a new unit, the suit claims. She also received medical attention, including stitches to her thigh.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, jail director Cara Smith, eight correctional officers, and the county are named as defendants in the suit.
The 10-count suit claims deliberate indifference to the plaintiff’s safety, state-created danger, failure to intervene, intentional infliction of emotional distress and, among other things, deliberate indifference to a serious medical need.
Smith said she was “very surprised by the outrageous allegations contained in the lawsuit.”
“We take our responsibility to care for every inmate in our custody very seriously and intend to disprove every sensational allegation contained in this complaint,” she said.