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Ex-correctional officer reluctantly admits abusing jail detainee

The Cook County Jail. | Sun-Times files

A former Cook County correctional officer admitted Wednesday he unnecessarily abused a jail detainee more than five years ago — but he made his admission reluctantly.

Robert Dartt, 47, grabbed the detainee’s face, gouged his eyes with his thumbs, threw him to the ground and then stomped on him in October 2011, a federal prosecutor told U.S. District Judge Elaine Bucklo.

Now Dartt lives in Florida, where he works as a security guard, and he appeared in Bucklo’s Chicago courtroom Wednesday to plead guilty. But when Bucklo asked Dartt if the prosecutor’s allegations were true, a long pause followed. And then Dartt began to quibble.

“I took him down, but I didn’t gouge his eyes out,” Dartt said.

Dartt nearly derailed the hearing with comments like that. And if the judge had called it off, Dartt might have found himself on the road to trial. But the judge instead called a short recess. Afterward, Dartt slowly began to come around.

At first, when the judge asked him if the force he used was “excessive,” Dartt replied: “I don’t — I don’t — yes, your honor.”

However, Dartt eventually admitted “I put my boot down” on the detainee. He also said, “It should have been handled differently.”

In the end, the judge let Dartt plead guilty to deprivation of rights under color of law, one of two counts contained in an indictment handed down last fall. He faces up to 10 years in prison.

The sheriff’s office released video of that incident, and others, last year. Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Kutcher said the assault left the detainee with cuts, scrapes, bruises and swelling.

Dartt said the inmate had been making verbal death threats against the jail staff. But Kutcher said the inmate posed no other threat. He also said Dartt lied on official reports when he claimed the inmate had taken an aggressive stance with closed fists, and that Dartt was trying to prevent injury to himself and the staff.

Bucklo set Dartt’s sentencing for Aug. 23.