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Ex-inmate sues Cook County Sheriff’s Office over 2013 beating

Randall Brown and his lawyer, Blake Horwitz, discuss Brown's lawsuit filed over a 2013 jail beating. | Andy Grimm/Sun-Times

A former Cook County Jail inmate who was beaten by a corrections officer in 2013 has sued the sheriff’s office, claiming he did nothing to provoke the guard who punched and kicked him as surveillance cameras rolled.

Randall Brown said he was standing in a holding cell on July 4, 2013, waiting for medication when guard Branden Norise burst into the room and began pummeling him and continued kicking and hitting him after he collapsed to the floor. Soon after, Sheriff Tom Dart sought to have Norise fired, only to have the jail’s Merit Board last year reinstate Norise, according to a Better Government Association investigation published two weeks ago.

Norise stands to collect $117,000 in back pay, and State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez declined to bring criminal charges. Meanwhile, Brown said he still suffers from migraine headaches and injuries to a shoulder and hands caused by Norise. Brown, who was being held on a misdemeanor drug charge that was later dropped, said he did not come forward sooner because he was threatened with more jail time when he complained about his treatment.

Weeks after the beating, Brown said, “a guy from the investigation unit, he told me if I press charges against Norise, [Norise] would press charges against me and I would face 57 years for aggravated battery on a police officer. That’s why I didn’t come forward. I didn’t want to go back to the penitentiary.”

Brown filed a lawsuit in federal court Thursday. Brown’s lawyer, Blake Horwitz, acknowledged the statute of limitations to file a lawsuit has passed, but contended the threats and intimidation should give the case grounds to proceed.

Cara Smith, chief policy officer for the sheriff’s office, said Thursday that the video of Brown’s beating was “horrific.”

The lawsuit “is not unexpected in a case such as this, which was disgraceful from day one,” Smith said.

Officials at Teamsters Local 700, which represents correctional officers at the jail, did not respond to calls from the Chicago Sun-Times.

The BGA found the sheriff’s office fielded more than 1,000 excessive force complaints between 2008 and 2015, and that Dart had moved to fire 35 jail employees named in those complaints — but only four had been terminated so far. In all, of the 1,094 complaints, 140 employees were found to have used excessive force by Dart’s office and 17 cases were referred to state or federal prosecutors for criminal prosecution. The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office brought charges in six cases.

Dart referred Brown’s case to the state’s attorney, but the office declined to charge Norise. Despite the findings by Dart’s internal affairs unit, the Sheriff’s Merit Board also cleared Norise of wrongdoing last year. Dart’s office said last month that it would place Norise in a job that limited his contact with inmates and has appealed the Merit Board ruling to the state Appeals Court.