Another Cook County jail officer is charged with attacking an inmate

Reginald Roberson | Cook County sheriff’s office

CHICAGO — For the second time this week, prosecutors on Wednesday filed criminal charges alleging the use of excessive force by Cook County jail staff.

According to Assistant State’s Attorney Johnnetta Byers, 52-year-old Reginald Roberson, a correctional officer who has worked for the sheriff’s office since 1999, allegedly attacked a detainee inside a jail holding area more than a year ago. She said officials de-deputized Roberson on August 9, about eight months after the December 29, 2021, attack, which took place in a “bullpen” area of the jail where incoming detainees are held for processing.

During a bail hearing for Roberson before Judge Ankur Srivastava on Wednesday, Byers said Roberson grabbed the 29-year-old victim by his shirt and put him back in the bullpen after the man asked for a medical evaluation and stepped out of the holding area.

After closing the door to the bullpen, Roberson went to his workstation and locked a pair of handcuffs around his knuckles, Byers said. He then walked into the holding area after the man slid the door open and tried to step out to ask when he’d be taken to his jail wing.

The detainee walked backward with both hands up “in surrender position” as Roberson advanced, punching the man three times in the face with his handcuff-wrapped knuckles and taking him to the ground, Byers alleged.

She said the man suffered a laceration under his eye that required stitches and a cut on his ear.

Roberson’s defense attorney, Tracey Harkins, told Judge Srivastava that the detainee refused to cooperate with the sheriff’s office investigation and argued “there may be more than meets the eye here.”

Byers disputed Harkins’ claim, telling Srivastava, “The victim is completely cooperative, has met with police, and has given a statement.”

Harkins said Roberson served in the Marines for eight years and saw combat during the 1990–1991 Gulf War. He lives with his long-time partner and her two adopted daughters and has an 18-year-old daughter of his own who lives out of state.

The judge decided that Roberson should pay a $2,000 bail deposit to be released.

In a statement, the sheriff’s office said the jail’s extensive security camera network recorded the alleged attack. The office is now seeking Roberson’s termination through the Sheriff’s Merit Board, the statement said.

He is charged with aggravated battery and official misconduct.

Roberson’s bail hearing came one day after another correctional officer was criminally charged with the same offenses.

In that case, 44-year-old Richard Smith was accused of repeatedly punching a restrained inmate inside the jail last September.

Smith and another officer were escorting a 24-year-old male detainee to a medical unit and shackled one of his arms to a wall as they waited for transportation around 1 p.m. on September 20, Assistant State’s Attorney Thomas Fryska told Judge Srivastava.

The inmate began yelling at Smith, who stood face-to-face as the inmate made derogatory statements, put a finger to Smith’s face, and threatened to spit on him. Soon, the other correctional officer stepped in and moved the inmate back while trying to de-escalate the situation, Fryska said.

But the inmate spat on Smith, and the 12-year veteran officer immediately began punching the victim in the face as the victim tried to fight back. The other officer restrained the inmate’s free hand within ten seconds, Fryska continued, but Smith delivered ten more punches to the man’s face within seconds.

Fryska said the second officer “escorted the victim to the ground” and called for backup.

With the inmate on the ground, one arm shackled and the other restrained by the second officer, Smith launched another attack, punching the victim 20 more times in the head and torso, Fryska alleged. Additional officers arrived at the scene seconds later.

In a written statement, the sheriff’s office said surveillance cameras recorded the incident, and a jail supervisor immediately referred the incident to investigators.

Fryska said the inmate did not suffer any bone fractures and called a hematoma on the back of the man’s head the “worst of the injuries.”

Private defense attorney Dan Herbert told Judge Srivastava that Smith was on the jail’s emergency response team for nine years. Herbert said he has been married for 15 years and has three children with his wife, a Chicago police officer.

Srivastava set bail at $50,000, meaning Smith had to pay a $5,000 deposit to be released.

As with Roberson, the sheriff’s office said the assault was captured on video, and it would seek to terminate Smith.

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