Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart’s electronic monitoring rules are ambiguous, appeals court finds

Tossing an escape conviction, the judges say it’s unclear whether detainees can get mail from their lobby or do laundry in the basement.

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Demarko Williams was detained on electronic monitoring in 2017 in this apartment building in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood.

WBEZ

An Illinois appellate court has slammed Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart’s electronic monitoring program for its “ambiguity” on whether apartment-dwelling detainees are allowed in other parts of their building for daily tasks such as getting the mail and washing clothes.

The ruling, a unanimous three-judge decision, throws out the 2018 escape conviction of Demarko Williams, a Chicago man who was imprisoned nearly five years for the offense — a conviction that followed his acquittal on drug charges, the case that landed him on the electronic monitoring in the first place.

“The state failed to offer any evidence that [Williams] was not permitted to go to other places within his apartment building without the sheriff’s approval,” the court ruled April 7, finding that Dart’s electronic monitoring program did not define whether a “residence” in a multi-unit building consists solely of the detainee’s unit.

“This is surprising, given the large number of detainees on [electronic monitoring] who we presume live in apartments and whose activities of daily living, such as retrieving mail and doing laundry, necessitate regular access to other parts of their apartment buildings,” the ruling says.

Dart’s office this week pushed back, insisting that its electronic monitoring rules make it clear the detainees are not getting “free rein to wander all over” a multi-unit building.

The acquittal before the escape conviction

Williams was ordered into the electronic monitoring program after his Sept. 3, 2017, arrest on drug charges. Dart’s staff put him in an ankle bracelet and confined him to his aunt’s South Shore apartment, part of a 12-unit building.

Williams said his sister lived in one of the other units. He said he went there to shower, believing the electronic monitoring terms allowed it, according to the appellate ruling.

On Sept. 7, sheriff’s investigators arrived at the aunt’s unit and did not find Williams, leading Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office to prosecute him for escape from electronic monitoring, a Class 3 felony.

In the underlying case — the drug charges that led to the electronic monitoring — Williams was found not guilty on March 28, 2018.

Despite that, the escape case proceeded to trial a few days later before a separate jury. Associate Judge James B. Linn denied a Williams motion to introduce evidence of the drug case acquittal, a decision the appellate court criticized.

The second jury found Williams guilty of escape. Linn sentenced Williams to 10 years in prison, a term the appeals judges deemed “excessive.”

Even with “day for day” credit, the sentence kept Williams locked up until July 6, 2022, according to an Illinois corrections spokesperson.

“This is just a heartbreaking case,” said Sharlyn Grace, senior policy adviser for Cook County Public Defender Sharone Mitchell Jr.’s office. “Mr. Williams was acquitted of the underlying charge, convicted of escape and had served his full sentence by the time it was reversed.”

Rules spelled out on sheriff’s office forms

Dart’s office this week slammed the reversal of Williams’ escape conviction: “No reasonable interpretation of electronic monitoring rules would allow for individuals to have free rein to wander all over a multi-unit residential building.”

Matt Walberg, a sheriff’s office spokesperson, pointed to the relevant rules. One requires the detainees to remain within the “interior premises of [the] approved residence” unless sheriff’s personnel grant prior approval of an absence.

Detainees also must be available to allow electronic monitoring program representatives into the residence to ensure compliance and must schedule with the sheriff’s office any movement outside the residence.

But those rules — spelled out on sheriff’s office forms, including one that detainees must sign or initial in 25 places — do not specify whether apartment dwellers can visit other parts of their building. A two-page “information brochure” for electronic monitoring participants posted on the sheriff’s website is similarly mute on the question.

Despite the appeals court ruling, Dart’s office did not answer whether it had revised those rules.

Foxx’s office would not say whether it’s planning to challenge the appeals ruling before the Illinois Supreme Court.

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