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Suit: Jail guards retaliated when woman rejected sexual advances

The Cook County Jail | Sun-Times file photo

A woman who was visiting her fiance at the Cook County Jail says she was repeatedly sexually harassed by one of the correctional officers.

Shatara Lakes is suing Cook County, Sheriff Tom Dart and several correctional officers, claiming that when she turned down a guard’s sexual advances and reported the behavior, other guards retaliated against her jailed fiance, Demetrius Harris, who also is a plaintiff in the lawsuit. It was filed in federal court Wednesday and claims their constitutional rights were violated by the correctional officers.

Lakes said she began making weekly visits with her 8-year-old daughter in December 2016 to Cook County Jail, 2700 S. California Ave., to see Harris, who was awaiting trial, according to the suit.

In January, she noticed that a male correctional officer assigned to the public waiting area would frequently flirt with her, calling her “beautiful,” according to the suit. On Jan. 14, he again called her beautiful and asked “If I touch you on your butt, will you slap me?”

Lakes said she nervously laughed the comment off, but did not give him permission. The correctional officer took out a business card and slid it and his hand into her back pocket. He “allowed his hand to linger for several seconds” and left the card. The officer also suggested he could take her through security and frisk her, but Lakes refused and asked for a female officer.

The officer approached her again inside the jail in a waiting area and showed her a picture of several children, which she presumed were his, according to the suit. He then made remarks, including pointing out the children were biracial, which Lakes took to mean that he, a white officer, was sexually attracted to her, a black woman, and wanted to have sex with her. He kissed her hand and asked Lakes’ daughter to tell her mother she was beautiful.

Harris submitted a complaint against the officer and an investigation was opened, according to the suit. Shortly after, other correctional officers began to abuse and harass her fiance, Harris, while he was held at the jail. The retaliation included suspension of Harris’ participation in an inmate work program, interference with his telephone access and disruptive and arbitrary dorm reassignments.

Officers told Harris that “under no circumstances would he receive any help from correctional officers,” according to the suit. He was also taken by the neck and shoved into a wall. One correctional officer banged Harris’ head into various walls. Other officers failed to bring Harris to court, resulting in his trial date being reset.

Harris was ultimately found not guilty of the charges against him in March and was released, the suit said.

The eight-count suit seeks unspecified damages and accuses the correctional officers, Cook County and Sheriff Dart of civil rights violations, including excessive force, intentional infliction of emotional distress and battery, according to court documents. Lakes and Harris seek a trial by jury.

“We strive to ensure that every person entering the jail is treated with dignity and respect and will defend against the allegations raised in this complaint,” Cook County sheriff’s office spokeswoman Cara Smith said in a statement Wednesday night.

When asked about the employment status of the correctional officer, Smith said the sheriff’s office is “seeking his termination,” as an investigation into Lakes’ complaint was ongoing.