Preckwinkle wants independent probe of juvenile detention death

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Color Copy Photo of Terry Bell Jr, 16, January 15 , 2012 I Copy Photo by Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle wants an independent investigation into the weekend death of a teenage inmate at the county’s juvenile detention center.

On Wednesday Preckwinkle said she’s prepared to ask a judge in federal court, which oversees a consent decree involving the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, to OK the independent probe into Saturday’s death of 16-year-old Terry Bell Jr.

Bell, of the 1000 block of West 79th Street, collapsed Saturday while playing basketball at the facility, 1100 South Hamilton, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office. He was pronounced dead at John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County later in the day.

Officials say the cause of death hasn’t been determined but his family says he had a history of high blood pressure.

In fact, he was sick and suffering from a blood pressure spike on Friday night, but insisted on playing Saturday – the day he died, his grandmother Georgia Bell said over the weekend. The teen had been incarcerated for four months when he died, and he took regular medication for his condition, she said.

Georgia Bell insists staff should have stopped him from joining the game.

On Wednesday, Preckwinkle said she spoke with the temporary head of the detention center, Earl Dunlap, and he has agreed to go with her to court to ask for an independent probe, conducted by a panel of independent medical, legal or juvenile corrections experts to examine the incident.

“It would be a joint independent inquiry by the president’s office and he and his staff,” she said, unsure of when the request would be made.

Reached Wednesday night, Dunlap said “I’m not going to stand in the way” of her Preckwinkle’s request. He’s already launched a probe of how staff responded to the boy collapsing and dying.

“I have an internal investigation going that will leave no stone unturned,” Dunlap said, noting that a preliminary review shows staff handled the situation appropriately.

He says he understands the heartache that Bell’s family is feeling.

“I lost my son a year ago. I understand what they’re going through,” Dunlap said, noting his adult son died of cancer.

A sophomore at Paul Robeson High School, Bell was awaiting trial in juvenile court on burglary charges, his father Terry Bell Sr. said. It was the second time he’d been held at the detention center for burglary, the senior Bell said.

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