Illinois sheriff on video releases: Public has right to know
CHICAGO (AP) — The sheriff who oversees one of the nation’s most crowded jails voluntarily released video Friday that shows half a dozen incidents of excessive force by deputies at the Cook County Jail in Chicago, saying the public has a right to see it.
The videos show violent encounters between jailers and inmates, including one in which an inmate is dragged through hallways by several officers, thrown into a cell and left with blood spattered on his shirt. Another shows two officers pushing a detainee to the ground with one of the jailers kicking him in the shoulders or face. Thirteen officers were fired or otherwise disciplined over the incidents.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said he decided to release videos in cases where a civilian oversight board has sustained allegations of excessive force without waiting for Freedom of Information Act requests. The move is part of Dart’s attempts to turn the jail around after decades of overcrowding and violence, his office said.
“The public has a right to know when officers abuse the public trust,” Dart said.
The jail has installed 2,400 fixed cameras and requires deputies to use body cameras and hand-held cameras during any potentially tense situations. There’s also a jail unit whose sole job is to pore over the video and spot potential misconduct.
“The existence of all these cameras has exponentially increased the ability of the sheriff’s office to hold accountable both officers who use excessive force as well as inmates who attack officers,” Dart’s office said in a statement Friday.
One of the released videos helped investigators determine that an officer kicked a handcuffed inmate in the face while the inmate was on the ground. The detainee told investigators the January 2012 confrontation began when he protested that his handcuffs were too tight.
The video shows several officers dragging him by his arms and legs through hallways before dumping him on the floor of a cell. What happens next is a bit unclear on the video because another officer is blocking the view, but the civilian Cook County Sheriff’s Merit Board ruled that officer Luis Zuniga kicked the detainee in the face.
The video, recorded by Zuniga’s supervising officer, shows the inmate’s upper body jerking back. The audio picks up what sounds like the detainee grunting in pain. It also includes audio of one of the officers warning others that the camera is recording.
As the officers shut the cell door, the detainee stands up with blood soaking his shirt. His face was blurred to protect his identity, but the Merit Board said his nose and mouth were also covered in blood.
Zuniga, who denied kicking the detainee, was fired. His direct supervisor, Sgt. James Elwood, was suspended without pay for 120 days for failing to report the excessive force, not immediately activating the camera and occasionally obstructing the view by covering the lens with his finger.