5 years after Markham courthouse rapes, and still waiting for cameras for holding cells

Sheriff Tom Dart — whose guards were accused of “negligence” for unwittingly ushering two men in to a cell where a woman was being held — wanted better surveillance immediately.

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Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart oversees security at the Cook County regional courthouse in Markham, where a female detainee’s rape in 2017 exposed major security lapses.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart oversees security at the Cook County regional courthouse in Markham, where a female detainee’s rape in 2017 exposed major security lapses.

Anthony Vazquez / Sun-Times file

After a female detainee was raped inside a holding cell at the Cook County regional courthouse in Markham by two male detainees in 2017, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart’s office said it was moving to improve security in the face of “negligence” accusations against his officers.

Lax security was blamed for allowing the attacks to happen and complicating the subsequent investigation.

Installing surveillance cameras in the lockup area where the assaults took place were among the planned improvements.

“Ideally, there are cameras on every corner of our whole system,” Cara Smith, then a top aide to Dart who left to become a Cook County judge, said in 2017. “But we’re not there yet.”

Five years later, the Markham courthouse still isn’t there. No security cameras have been installed in the area where the rapes occurred.

Told by a reporter that hasn’t happened, the assault victim, now 57, says: “There definitely need to be some updated cameras just to hold people accountable so we know who did what, and who didn’t do what.”

The Cook County courthouse in Markham, where a female detainee was sexually assaulted by two men being held there in 2017.

The Cook County courthouse in Markham, where a female detainee was sexually assaulted by two men being held there in 2017.

Pat Nabong / Sun-Times

Two men were charged in the attacks and convicted. Both initially blamed the woman, saying she forced them into sex acts, threatening them with a bloody syringe.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s administration quickly settled with the woman, paying her $3.25 million without any lawsuit being filed.

A spokesman for Dart, who declined to be interviewed, says the sheriff’s office is at the mercy of “other units of county government” to procure more cameras.

In the time that process so far has taken, Hamidullah Tribble, 26, who was one of the men convicted of assaulting the woman, already has served his sentence and gotten out of prison, court records show.

This is the holding cell behind Courtroom 106 at the Cook County regional courthouse in Markham where a woman being held there was raped by two male detainees in 2017 in incidents that exposed major security lapses by Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart’s office. Some have still not been fixed.

This is the holding cell behind Courtroom 106 at the Cook County regional courthouse in Markham where a woman being held there was raped by two male detainees in 2017 in incidents that exposed major security lapses by Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart’s office. Some have still not been fixed.

Provided

“We wanted the cameras immediately and have impressed upon the county the need to move quickly,” the Dart spokesman says in a written statement. “However, the requested upgrades to the camera system at the Markham courthouse became part of a massive procurement project that will include significant security video hardware and software upgrades to other county courthouses and properties.”

He points to “the unfortunately lengthy and complex procurement process, which is governed by strict legal requirements.”

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

Pat Nabong / Sun-Times

After the Cook County Board unanimously approved the settlement with the woman in 2017, Preckwinkle ripped Dart.

“It’s unacceptable, and we should all be outraged,” Preckwinkle — who has been at odds with Dart over the years but, as head of the Cook County Democratic Party, is supporting him in his reelection bid this year — said then. “We need to understand how this could possibly happen in one of our lockups. The sheriff and his team need to do a better job of putting systems in place so that there are clear operational and managerial guidelines.”

A Preckwinkle aide says “camera installations at all Cook County courthouses have been occurring in phases over recent years. While the latest phase has been hindered by the COVID-19 pandemic and related issues around staffing, it includes the contract pertaining to additional camera installations at the Markham courthouse. This contract is expected to go up for vote at the upcoming March or April meeting of the Board of Commissioners.”

In the aftermath of the courthouse rapes, the sheriff’s office moved to fire nine employees, including now-former sheriff’s Lt. Robin Baker, whose efforts to get her job back were shot down in late February by the Illinois Appellate Court.

Former Cook County sheriff’s Lt. Robin Baker, who was fired after the 2017 rapes of a female detainee at the Markham courthouse by two male detainees.

Former Cook County sheriff’s Lt. Robin Baker, who was fired after the 2017 rapes of a female detainee at the Markham courthouse by two male detainees.

Provided

Baker was a watch commander at the Markham courthouse when the woman was raped there May 2, 2017.

Two of the sheriff’s employees initially targeted for firing ended up keeping their jobs. Another retired. The other six, including Baker, were fired.

No one from the sheriff’s office faced criminal charges, according to the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, which says no “formal referral of criminal conduct was sent” for prosecutors “to review.”

The sheriff’s office said the staff misconduct “did not meet the threshold required to sustain criminal charges.”

On the day the woman was assaulted, Tribble and Nelon Drake, 33, were being held in a Markham lockup.

Tribble was facing charges of aggravated kidnapping of a child, possession of a stolen motor vehicle and unlawful restraint.

Hamidullah Tribble, 26, who was convicted of sexually assaulting a female detainee at the Cook County regional courthouse in Markham in 2017.

Hamidullah Tribble, 26, who was convicted of sexually assaulting a female detainee at the Cook County regional courthouse in Markham in 2017.

Provided

Drake was being held on a first-degree murder charge and, in a separate case, attempted murder, armed robbery, aggravated discharge of a firearm and aggravated unlawful restraint.

They both asked to use a restroom. One or more sheriff’s guards led each man to another holding cell where there was a bathroom — and where the woman was being held, though apparently not in plain sight. Male and female inmates generally aren’t supposed to mix in custody.

After the assaults, the men were led back to their cell by guards who authorities say didn’t know until later what happened.

Though there are no cameras in the holding cells, Markham does have cameras. There are 48 of them, most “in the basement lockup, where there are cameras in each holding cell and additional cameras covering the walkways and common areas,” according to the sheriff’s office. “The dock and the ramp leading to the dock are also covered by cameras, as are various public entrances and halls. The holding cells behind each courtroom, where detained individuals are held after being brought up from the basement lockup, do not have any cameras. The incident occurred in one of the holding areas behind Courtroom 106.”

Unlike the sheriff’s employees who were accused by their own agency of “negligence” for putting men in a cell with a woman, Baker was blamed for bungling the response.

The February Illinois Appellate Court decision upholding the firing of sheriff’s Lt. Robin Baker.

The February Illinois Appellate Court decision upholding the firing of sheriff’s Lt. Robin Baker.

That’s detailed in the Feb. 22 appeals court order upholding her firing after she sued to get her job back: “Around 1:30 p.m., Baker and several other subordinates relayed to Antwann Boyd, the sheriff’s office superintendent of the Markham courthouse, that a sexual assault had occurred. Boyd, who oversaw about 100 employees, ordered Baker to secure the crime scene, ensure the relevant parties received medical attention and notify the Investigations Division in charge of inmate-on-inmate crimes, in accordance with her job responsibilities. Between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m., Baker updated Boyd, relaying that his orders had been fulfilled, and he was “under the impression that those things were being taken care of.”

“Baker’s assurances, however, rang hollow. As the afternoon wore on, Boyd learned the female detainee was still in lockup without receiving medical attention, and the scene had not been secured. He later discovered the Investigations Division had not been notified. Instead, Baker directed her subordinate, Deputy Sheriff Gregory Hart, to take statements from the detainees and create a report, even though Hart had no specialized training for taking such witness statements.

Cara Smith, a former top aide to Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart who is now a Cook County judge.

Cara Smith, a former top aide to Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart who is now a Cook County judge. After the 2017 sexual assaults, Smith said new security cameras were planned for the Markham courthouse. They’re still not there.

AP

“In addition, it was Sgt. George Burke (working the 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift), in charge of courthouse lockup and intake, who ended up ordering medical attention for the detainees. Burke testified he learned of the sexual assault from another deputy sheriff, rather than Baker, although it would have been customary for Baker to have informed him of such an incident. Specifically, he discovered the two male detainees who were in the lockup cell together with the general population had refused to get on a transport bus because they were demanding medical attention.

“Around 3:30 p.m., Burke spoke to the men, both of whom informed him of the alleged sexual assault. He ordered the men from their cell, separated them and then called Baker, stating he was sending the men to the hospital and needed staffing for help. Baker responded that the men were lying, the sexual assaults did not occur, and she would not send them to the hospital or authorize overtime for personnel.

Nelon Drake, one of two men convicted of raping a woman in a Markham courthouse holding cell in 2017.

Nelon Drake, one of two men convicted of raping a woman in a Markham courthouse holding cell in 2017.

Provided

“Baker was similarly dismissive about medical attention for the female detainee, stating ‘this is all nonsense,’ and ordering her to simply be transported without medical attention. Burke nonetheless ordered ambulances called.”

Sheriff’s Sgt. John Vega, in charge of the sheriff’s Investigations Division, “wasn’t informed of the alleged sexual assault until the morning of May 3, 2017, the day after the incident,” according to the appeals court ruling. “Vega testified that the situation would have been handled very differently had he been properly informed. For example, he would have immediately made courthouse staff preserve and hold the crime scene, separate the three detainees, and all three detainees would have been sent to the hospital to obtain rape kits” — collecting DNA evidence.

“Instead, in this case, Vega noted the interviews were not appropriately done, and the crime scene was not preserved (as the cleaning staff cleared it), and there was not any evidence collected there. Vega testified that he assigned investigators to the case, and, upon proper review, it showed the female, rather than the males, had been raped.”

During internal disciplinary proceedings, sheriff’s officials said Baker “displayed a total lack of candor regarding the May 2, 2017, event. A law enforcement officer whose word cannot be taken on its face value, especially one who holds the rank of lieutenant, is a liability” for the agency, “the people of Cook County and the officer herself.”

They said Baker “demonstrated a continuous disregard for standard law enforcement techniques during the event of May 2, 2017, and seemed more interested in departing the Markham courthouse than leading the efforts to get to the bottom of the matter.”

The Cook County regional courthouse in Markham.

The sheriff’s office says, even without the promised new surveillance cameras at the Markham courthouse, “This crime would not have occurred if not for the failure of the staff to fulfill their duties on that day.”

Pat Nabong / Sun-Times

Neither Baker, whose pay was around $100,000 in 2017, nor her lawyer could be reached.

The sheriff’s spokesman says “while we continue to work closely” with other county agencies “to accomplish these needed upgrades, the sheriff’s office has also taken significant steps to ensure the safety of individuals held in custody at the Markham courthouse.

“Since the incident, the office has required every deputy and supervisor in the Markham courthouse to wear body-worn cameras, which allow both audio and video recording, unlike security cameras.

“The sheriff’s office also worked with county officials to install mirrors that allow staff to visually inspect blind spots such as the one where the victim was seated at the time of the attacks, and staff are subject to unannounced security checks by supervisory staff to ensure that all protocols and policies are being followed.”

Even without the cameras, the sheriff’s spokesman says, “This crime would not have occurred if not for the failure of the staff to fulfill their duties on that day.”

Tribble — who was accused in an indictment of having “knowingly committed an act of sexual penetration” by “the use of force or threat of force” — was charged with criminal sexual assault but pleaded guilty to a lesser charge. Sentenced to six years in prison, he was credited for the time he’d already served and, with that and other credits, was out by October 2020.

He wrote a letter to the judge then, saying he’d been released and was living on the South Side.

Tribble was required to register as a sex offender. But the Illinois State Police sex offender portal lists him as “non-compliant” — meaning he has “failed to maintain accurate registration records, as required by law.”

Now, Tribble wants Judge Steven Watkins to, in effect, undo his guilty plea, asserting in recent court filings that it was consensual sex and that he would not have pleaded guilty had he understood he was required to register as a sex offender.

Drake, who has appealed his conviction to the Illinois Appellate Court, was accused of forcing the woman to perform oral sex, found guilty at a bench trial of sexual assault and sentenced to seven years in prison. He’s now at the Pontiac Correctional Center, serving that time and a 20-year sentence for murder.

Drake has unsuccessfully challenged the rape conviction to the trial judge, also saying it was consensual sex.

At a hearing, John E. Collins, his lawyer, said “there were three million reasons” for the woman “to have this story” and “stick to” it — referring to the county’s payout.

At the same hearing, Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Mikki Miller said the woman was “in a fetal position on the floor crying — that is not the picture of a consensual encounter,” records show.

The woman testified that as she was being assaulted, she told the men, “No, no, no, no.”

She was in the Markham lockup while facing charges in two retail theft cases for which she pleaded “guilty and received probation,” according to the state’s attorney’s office.

Responding in court to Collins’ assertions, Miller said, ”Criminals can be the victims of sexual assault. Anybody can be. And she was in this case. Nothing of her own fault.

“She had two male inmates brought in to her cell, where she should have been safe and protected, and she wasn’t,” Miller said. “Yeah, she got money from the county because of that. And she deserved every penny of it, Judge, because something happened to her that should have been avoided, and it was due to negligence.”

The Illinois State Police sex offender registry listing that shows Hamidullah Tribble, one of those convicted in the attacks on a female detainee at the Markham courthouse.

The Illinois State Police sex offender registry listing that shows Hamidullah Tribble, one of those convicted in the attacks on a female detainee at the Markham courthouse.

Miller said of Drake and Tribble: “They were the ones trying to milk the system. They were the ones trying to create a false claim and turn the wheels and flip the script.”

She said the woman, when “first asked, she was so scared she didn’t say what happened. And she probably never would have, had it [not] been for the defendants making a false claim that they were assaulted.”

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