Correctional officer claims unsanitary, unsafe conditions amid coronavirus outbreak at Cook County Jail

CHICAGO (WLS) -- With 272 detainees and 115 staff at the Cook County Jail sick with the coronavirus at last count, the jail has an infection rate more than 50 times higher than the rest of Illinois.

The ABC7 I-Team has new details about what may be happening inside the jail.

In a federal court filing a correctional officer has spoken out about what he called unsanitary and unsafe conditions for both employees and detainees at the facility.

Cook County Jail is considered the most infected single spot in the country, and so a federal judge is being asked to decide how to protect inmates and staff.

"Well, I think we still have several hundred people who should be leaving the jail. So let's get them out," said chief public defender Amy Campanelli.

Campanelli wants additional low-risk, medically compromised prisoners to be released rather than added to the growing sick list at the lockup.

"I would like the judges to continue to think their mind- that these clients are at risk by staying in this jail and that is what they should be thinking about," she said.

Protesters who also want prisoners released encircled the jail Tuesday afternoon. During a virtual hearing in federal court, civil rights attorneys asked a judge for emergency action to release prisoners from county jail and protect those who can't be freed.
Corrections officer David Evans, the chief union steward, filed an explosive affidavit alleging sheriff's officials have not provided adequate personal protective equipment, training and testing to help limit the spread of COVID-19. He said multiple detainees are being held together in cells and other officers are scared for their jobs.

"First of all, they're all afraid to speak out directly because of fear of retaliation. That's a fact, they're afraid of that," said Cass Casper, an attorney who is representing Evans. "Well-based or not, I can't say to that, but they're afraid to speak out. David Evans, as the chief union steward, felt that he has a responsibility in that position."

Casper also told the I-Team he and other labor lawyers have been inundated with similar reports from other officers of the jail. He said those details include "...lack of equipment , lack of training conflicting orders detainees in particular, not having PPE that they probably should have. detainees congregating in large areas, detainees being allowed to play basketball in large rooms."

ABC7 legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Gil Soffer said a judge is likely to decide quickly whether to take emergency action.

"I think the thrust of everything right now from the judge's perspective, and everywhere, is find a way to resolve this," he said. "Find a way to house as many prisoners as you can in reasonably safe conditions and find a way to release those that simply have to be released in an orderly way. That's going to be the order of business now and in the next few days."

The ABC7 I-Team reached out to the Cook County Sheriff's Office, who said they do not comment on ongoing litigation. In an e-mail statement the office also said there are daily calls with union leadership, to hear all concerns about the current crisis.

FULL STATEMENT FROM COOK COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE

We are in the middle of litigating before the federal court the issues presented by plaintiffs. We do not wish to interrupt that process by commenting specifically on these additional declarations submitted after we filed our response. However, we do have daily calls with union leadership, including the president and vice-president of Local 700 to hear every concern they have about the current crisis. That process is open and honest and includes the discussion of specific issues with the boots on the ground officers. This process is essential to identify and address specific concerns as they arise. We established this daily communication to streamline necessary change, identify misinformation, and ensure policies and procedures are being executed in the living units with detainees.
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