Cook County prosecutors tonight are reviewing the cases of nearly 900 county jail inmates who may be released into the community as authorities fight to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak at the facility, according to a source in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.
The move comes as jail authorities this evening confirmed the first case of coronavirus within the sprawling complex at 2700 South California.
Meanwhile, CWBChicago has fielded complaints from a range of courthouse employees who report being faced with “obviously ill” defendants who openly coughed, sneezed, and hacked their way through court appearances this week — even after the county’s chief judge supposedly put most court hearings on hold. And after Chicago’s mayor ordered all sick persons to stay in their homes.
Also: two more Chicago police officers have tested positive for COVID-19, the department said, bringing the total number of cops afflicted so far to three.
Here are the latest developments tonight:
Jail guard positive
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart tonight confirmed a correctional officer at the county jail has tested positive for COVID-19. The officer, who recently worked in the jail’s residential treatment unit and Cermak Hospital facility, is in isolation at home, Dart said.
Sheriff’s Office workers traced the guard’s contacts via video footage and “a small number of staff” have been advised to stay home for two weeks, Dart said. None of those employees is showing symptoms, according to Dart.
Viral “hot box” in courtrooms
While Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans publicly ordered most of the county’s court cases to be continued until at least April 15 to counter COVID-19, many lawyers and court workers have complained publicly and directly to CWBChicago about conditions within the county’s courthouses this week.
“Cook County has taken zero precautions to protect against COVID,” one courtroom lawyer said while requesting anonymity. A supervising attorney “came and told us — I’m not kidding — that they were going to try to stock our bathrooms with paper towels and soap.”
“Judge Evans signed the order closing courts for a month, however, the fine print is that essential courtrooms will stay open,” an assistant state’s attorney said.
But even non-essential cases continued to be heard after Evans’ order was supposed to take effect, according to other courtroom sources. And some of the defendants openly appeared to be ill while in court, the sources said.
In one case, a sniffling, sneezing, coughing defendant was brought to court for a non-essential hearing even after Mayor Lori Lightfoot ordered all sick people to stay home except in the most essential circumstances, like medical visits.
The man, who wore a mask to court, repeatedly pulled the mask off his face to openly cough and sneeze while standing at the bench, according to a source familiar with the hearing. And, of course, he didn’t cover his mouth or nose.
The judge, who appeared distracted by the man’s obvious illness, ordered him to move to the back of the courtroom where he continued to wheeze, hack, and sneeze on a sheriff’s deputy, the source said.
Court clerks literally walked off the job at one courthouse Friday as their frustrations with courtroom conditions boiled over.
More to be released from jail
Assistant state’s attorneys in Cook County have spent Sunday reviewing the cases of nearly 900 jail inmates who are being considered for release into the community, according to a source within the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.
Up to 100 jail inmates were released last week after public defenders, prosecutors, and judges agreed they were “low risks” to the community.
Three more Chicago cops positive
The police department’s top spokesperson on Sunday afternoon confirmed that two more Chicago cops have tested positive for COVID-19. A few hours later, Anthony Guglielmi said yet another officer — this one assigned to a district on the South Side — has tested positive, bringing the total number of confirmed cases within CPD to four.
The department’s first case was confirmed Thursday.
Doctors discovered one of the new cases after the officer was hospitalized for an unrelated, underlying medical condition, according to a source.