Fox sued over ‘Empire’ filming at juvenile detention center

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Relatives of two juveniles say filming for the TV series “Empire” essentially put the Cook County juvenile detention center on lockdown. | FOX

When the hit TV show “Empire” filmed scenes in Chicago last year, it lured big-name stars like Chris Rock to the Cook County juvenile detention center.

But relatives of two juveniles were far from star-struck. And now they’ve sued Twentieth Century Fox Television Inc., Cook County and others over the lockdown they say occurred when “enormous” film crews descended on the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center at Roosevelt and Ogden in the summer of 2015.

“The purpose of these lockdowns was to provide Fox with a realistic prison facility to use as the primary set of two highly profitable ‘Empire’ episodes,” their lawyers wrote in a 37-page federal complaint filed Wednesday. “The children at JTDC, meanwhile, were placed under restrictions more severe than those governing many adult jails.”

Fox and Cook County officials did not immediately comment on the lawsuit.

The parent and grandparent of two teenagers housed at the detention center last year are pursuing the lawsuit. The complaint identifies them only by their initials. It claims a 250-person film crew took over the detention center, suspended parking for as many as seven blocks, occupied classrooms and essentially turned a chapel into a mess hall.

“The library, which was normally used by children at the JTDC to read, study, and check out books, was made into crew support area,” the lawyers wrote. “The infirmary was used as a film set, as were some of the JTDC’s intake facilities. So was the JTDC’s visiting area, where the children normally meet with their families.”

Meanwhile, the juveniles housed at the facility were relegated to their cell and “pod” areas and were required to sit in one place, according to the complaint. For one teen, “even to stand up without first obtaining permission was treated as a major rule violation.”

“There they were told to sit, for days on end,” lawyers wrote. “Their schooling continued in name only, visits from their families were interrupted, cut back, or effectively eliminated, sick-call requests were ignored, and programs that are intended to help them overcome the problems that landed them at the JTDC in the first place were cancelled or interrupted.”

The 2015 filming occurred June 21-26, July 13-16 and Aug. 23-26, according to the lawsuit. One reason for the multiple visits, it claims, is that Fox executives demanded scenes be re-filmed after Rock’s character “had originally been depicted as a cannibal.”

“The JTDC was placed on lockdown at least in part to accommodate these demands,” the lawsuit states.

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