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8th Cook County jail detainee dies from complications of COVID-19

Harold Graszer, 85, died Monday at Stroger Hospital of septic shock from a COVID-19 infection. He was facing sex assault charges in two separate cases.

Cook County Jail.
Cook County Jail
Sun-Times file photo

An 85-year-old detainee is the latest person to die after testing positive for the coronavirus while awaiting trial at Cook County Jail.

Harold Graszer died Monday at Stroger Hospital of septic shock from a COVID-19 infection, according to the Cook County sheriff’s and medical examiner’s offices.

Graszer, of Sublette, was facing multiple charges, including predatory criminal sexual assault, in two separate cases, court records show.

A spokeswoman for the state’s attorney’s office could not provide more information about the allegations against Graszer Tuesday evening. Chicago police said Graszer was arrested Oct. 8, 2019, on a warrant charging him with sexually assaulting two victims under the age of 13.

Graszer tested positive for the virus after being admitted to the hospital last week following complaints of tightness in his chest and shortness of breath, the sheriff’s office said in a statement.

Graszer was being held on at least $150,000 bail; a motion to reduce his bail was denied Sept. 30 by Judge Joseph Claps, the state’s attorney’s office said.

Harold Graszer arrest photo
Harold Graszer
Chicago police

Advocates for detainees said Graszer would still be alive if he had been released on bond.

“Mr. Graszer, who was 85 years old and at high risk, would be alive today if he had been released on bond,” Alexa Van Brunt, an attorney suing the sheriff’s office over coronavirus protections at the jail, said in a statement. “Bond reform is now a matter of life and death.”

Sharlyn Grace, executive director of the not-for-profit Chicago Community Bond Fund, called on State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and Chief Judge Tim Evans to expedite bond reviews for detainees to reduce the jail’s population.

Since the pandemic began, seven other detainees have died from complications of COVID-19, according to county records. As of Tuesday, 144 detainees in custody at the jail tested positive for the virus, the sheriff’s office reported.

A spokesman for the sheriff’s office said Graszer was being held at Cermak Health Services at the jail before he was moved to Stroger Hospital.

Last week, Sheriff Tom Dart appealed the public to take mask wearing and social distancing seriously, warning the spike in coronavirus cases in the city and state could threaten his office’s efforts to control cases at the jail.

Dart said Thursday the jail’s positivity rate remained relatively low — between 1% and 2%. In comparison, public health officials said Tuesday the statewide positivity rate was 12.5%.

Dart warned that as the jail’s population increases it becomes more difficult to socially distance detainees.

Shortly after the pandemic began, the courts took measures to reduce the population of the jail, including releasing more detainees onto house arrest.

But since summer, the population at the jail has nearly returned to pre-pandemic population levels, with more than 5,500 people currently held in the jail’s facilities, according to the sheriff’s office.