Tom Dart sues correctional officer who allegedly spread domestic violence rumors

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Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart speaks at a July 2017 press conference. | Sun-Times file photo

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart says one of his own employees – who happens to be a supporter of one of his political challengers — was the source of unfounded rumors spread last year about alleged incidents of domestic violence at the sheriff’s Mount Greenwood home.

Dart filed a $300,000 defamation lawsuit Thursday against correctional officer Howard Denham, his wife Nicole Denham and the downtown stationery company where she works — and where they allegedly sent emails to various news outlets accusing Dart of hitting his wife in October 2017.

Someone purporting to be “Dan Burley” sent three emails from a Yahoo account suggesting Dart “physically attacked his wife at their Mount Greenwood home leaving visible injuries to her face and person.”

The emails also claimed Dart was involved in an “extra-marital affair” and that police were called to the home for another domestic incident a few nights later, but said authorities were intent on keeping things “hush hush.”

A judge granted a February request from Dart — who is suing as a private citizen and not in his capacity as sheriff — to order Yahoo to reveal the IP address of the emailer, according to Dennis Culloton, a spokesman for Dart.

The messages were traced back to Paper Source Inc., where Nicole Denham is a manager, according to the suit, which doesn’t make any allegations about the Denhams’ possible motivation.

They could not be reached for comment. Messages left at Paper Source’s corporate office on the Near North Side went unreturned Friday.

Howard and Nicole Denham | Facebook photo

Howard and Nicole Denham | Facebook photo

“Mr. Dart has always welcomed fair comment and criticism of his role as a public servant, but, as detailed in this complaint, these false attacks against his family are offensive, hurtful and and caused damage to his reputation,” Dart’s personal lawyer John F. Winter Jr. said in a statement. “Further, this suit sends a message to the cowards who spew false information under fake internet and social media identities and those who provide those cowards access and assistance to do so.”

Howard Denham has been a Cook County correctional officer for about five years, according to county payroll records.

Before apparently deactivating his Facebook account Friday afternoon following requests for comment from a Sun-Times reporter, he had shared numerous posts dating back to last year expressing support for Dominick Izzo, a Hoffman Estates man who filed last year to run for Cook County sheriff as a Republican, Illinois State Board of Elections records show.

According to the Facebook posts, Denham volunteered and circulated nominating petitions for Izzo, who is not currently on the ballot for the Nov. 6 election but maintains an active campaign presence on social media.

Izzo mentioned an alleged “physical domestic disturbance at Sheriff Tom Dart’s residence” in a Facebook post on Oct. 17, 2017 — five days before the first email mentioned in the suit was sent.

A day later, Izzo posted that “[T]he more you try to bury it, the deeper everyone will dig,” advising Chicago police officers and Cook County deputies “to get ahead of this Dart domestic now, before you completely turn it into a corruption case and people lose their jobs or even go to jail.”

Reached via Facebook, Izzo declined to comment. His campaign is not mentioned in the six-count suit, which seeks $300,000 or more in damages.

Last October, a complaint was filed with the Civilian Office of Police Accountability alleging that officers had failed to take a report from an incident at Dart’s home that “involved his wife and his girlfriend,” according to that agency.

The Chicago Sun-Times obtained a recording of a 911 call purportedly linked to an incident at Dart’s home. In the recording, a Morgan Park District police officer asks a dispatcher for an “event number” for a prior police response to Dart’s home days earlier, but the dispatcher tells the officer that none exists.

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