Cook County may soon be paying out $14 million to settle a class action lawsuit stemming from “masturbation attacks” by jail inmates against female public defenders and law clerks who visited the jail or encountered inmates in courthouse lockups between November 2015 and last October.
The lawsuit is one of two class action cases filed on behalf of women who work in the Cook County Jail and courthouse lockups. A second suit, initiated by five female jail guards, is still being litigated.
Both suits alleged that jail inmates regularly abused the plaintiffs by masturbating in front of the women and making threats of “explicit sexual violence…and physical attacks.”
One of the lawsuits claimed that Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart rewarded men who masturbated in front of the women by giving them free pizza if they went 30 days without doing it again. The women said Dart’s policy made conditions worse because inmates intentionally masturbated in front of them to qualify for the free pizza promotion.
Dart’s office denies the pizza incentive operated as alleged in the lawsuit.
The suits also allege that jail inmates formed a gang called “Savage Life” in which members received “points” for attacking jail workers. Gang members received extra “points” by targeting female public defenders and law clerks, according to court records.
The proposed settlement calls for court-ordered injunctions to remain in place for two more years. In November 2017, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly ordered the county to take several steps to improve conditions for women who work in the jail and courthouses. Among other things, Kennelly ordered inmates with histories of sexual misconduct to be handcuffed and clothed in special uniforms at courthouses.
Attorneys for the women will receive $4,200,000 of the settlement money under the proposal, which is awaiting final approval by Kennelly.
There are 534 members of the class, according to a court filing made this week, but 233 of those women are law clerks who “did have the same level of detainee interactions” as public defenders.