CHICAGO (CN) – Cook County keeps innocent people locked up for hours in a “bullpen” after a jury acquits them, illegally detaining them and exposing free and innocent citizens to violence, a class action claims in Cook County Court.
Lead plaintiff Brian Otero sued Cook County and its Sheriff, Thomas J. Dart, seeking declaratory judgment, an injunction, costs and damages for civil rights violations.
Otero says he was arrested on Nov. 23, 2009 and charged with burglary and held until trial, as he could not make back. He says he was acquitted of all counts on July 21, 2011, and had not outstanding warrants, but the county kept him locked up for another 12 hours, to “process” him for release.
“While being detained, held in custody and imprisoned in the bullpen, other inmates asked plaintiff about the outcome of his trial,” the complaint states. “After informing the prisoners that he had been found not guilty and would be leaving jail, one of the prisoners punched and pummeled plaintiff about the face and body. Plaintiff sustained physical injuries as a result of the jailhouse beating he suffered while being detained by defendants after his acquittal.
“Plaintiff did not report the beating to defendants because he was afraid he would somehow catch another charge as a result of being beaten in the bullpen, and his release would be delayed further.
“The policy or practice followed by defendants for detaining individuals who are found not guilty or who are otherwise acquitted at trial or other proceeding causes an unreasonable length and manner of detention in violation of the Constitution. Among other things, defendants’ policy or practice is to detain individuals such as plaintiff and class members with the general prison population, which not only substantially and unnecessarily increases the procedural steps for processing out an individual, but also creates a serious risk that the individual will be the victim of a violent assault. Even though defendants no longer have probable cause or any other right to detain or investigate individuals who were found not-guilty or who were otherwise acquitted, defendants’ policy or practice is to hold such individuals in custody pending the completion of a post-release check for wants and holds. This is a laborious and time consuming process that unnecessarily prolongs an individual’s detention and which could have been done during the individual’s detention prior to his or her not-guilty verdict or acquittal. These and other aspects of defendants’ policies or practices results in a post-acquittal detention of individuals that is unreasonable in both length and manner and, therefore, is unconstitutional.”
Otero also seeks punitive damages for unlawful detention, and an order requiring Cook County to implement a post-acquittal program that does not violate civil rights.
He is represented by Robert Foote with Foote, Meyers, Mielke & Flowers, who did not respond to a request for comment.