Northwestern attorneys present closing arguments in Cook County Jail lawsuit

Ciara McCarthy, Editor in Chief

Northwestern lawyers presented closing arguments last week in a suit they filed against Cook County officials over conditions at the county’s jail, where they allege “a culture of brutality and lawlessness” exists in the facility.

Lawyers from the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center originally filed the class action suit in February on behalf of five current and former inmates at the jail and “similarly situated individuals.” The center is part of NU School of Law’s Bluhm Legal Clinic.

“In addition to seeking the creation of a class of individuals who now are or in the future will be housed in maximum and super maximum security at the Cook County Jail, the laws​uit seeks a court order to end the abusive and barbaric practices at the jail and to establish a system of effective oversight,” according to a news release from the law center.

Lawyers defending the Cook County officials named in the suit, including Sheriff Tom Dart, presented their closing arguments last week as well.

Now, both sides will wait for U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall to rule on the motion for a preliminary injunction regarding practices at the jail. If granted, lawyers will continue presenting arguments on the need for a permanent injunction. Both sides can file additional briefs before Kendall’s decision will come down. Kendall’s decision is not expected until January.

The lawsuit alleges a systemic culture of violence perpetrated against inmates in the jail’s two maximum-security divisions.

Throughout the past six weeks, multiple inmates testified about their treatment in the jail. One inmate claimed he was kneed in the face by a jail official. MacArthur attorney David Shapiro brought up the incident in court last week, claiming no officials were disciplined in connection with the incident despite video evidence.

The suit contains graphic depictions of alleged violence in the facility, including physical and verbal abuse of inmates while they are handcuffed and shackled. The violence in the jail is due to Cook County officials’ inability to manage the burgeoning population of the jail, which has increased dramatically in recent years, according to the suit.

“Officers attack men housed at the jail when they are handcuffed and shackled and pose no threat to security — and they often beat people who live with mental illness for manifestations of that illness,” MacArthur attorney Sheila Bedi said in a news release about the case.

Attorneys for the defendants protested MacArthur’s case, saying the evidence it presented did not support the “salacious and sensational theories” in the suit.

“This is really a classic case of overselling and underdelivering,” an attorney for Tom Dart said. “The plaintiff has not met the burden of proof.”

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