Woman tried to smuggle drug-saturated paper worth $125,000 into Cook County jail, officials say

CHICAGO — A woman who works for a contractor at the Cook County jail tried to smuggle drug-soaked papers into the facility so they could be cut up and sold to inmates, officials said Friday. She is the third person to face felony charges recently for allegedly trying to bring saturated papers into the facility.

Shawnda McClendon, 38, of Chicago, has worked for a contractor that services the jail commissary since November 2020, the sheriff’s office said.

On March 2, after receiving information that McClendon would be delivering drug-laced papers to a jail inmate, sheriff’s office investigators confronted her at the jail as she prepared to deliver commissary items that individuals had purchased.

She initially denied having contraband but then admitted that she did and removed 19 infused papers wrapped in plastic that she had concealed on her waistline, according to the sheriff’s office.

Officials estimated that the papers, once broken down, would have sold for $125,000 had they made it into the jail.

Shawnda McClendon | Cook County sheriff’s office; Google

The papers were sent to a lab for testing, which recently came back positive for synthetic cannabinoids, prosecutor Sarah Dale-Schmidt said during McClendon’s bail hearing. She said McClendon was part of a secretly recorded phone call regarding the contraband smuggling effort.

Dale-Schmidt did not say who McClendon spoke with during the recorded call. A sheriff’s office spokesperson said their investigation is ongoing.

Her defense attorney said she has worked 20 years as a cook for a food service company.

Judge Barbara Dawkins set bail at $30,000, meaning McClendon must pay a $3,000 bail deposit to get out of jail.

Dale-Schmidt also made a routine request to have McClendon ordered to have no contact with the complainant’s location. In this case, it’s the jail where McClendon will be confined.

“No contact with the jail?” Dawkins asked. “That’s interesting.”

Couple charged

Earlier this week, an inmate held on a murder charge and his girlfriend were accused of conspiring to bring drug-laced papers into jail.

Dwain Johnson has been in the Cook County jail since December 18, 2020, on allegations that he was the getaway driver for a group that shot and killed a retired Chicago firefighter Dwain Williams during a botched carjacking attempt.

Officials say he tried to bribe a correctional officer to help him smuggle drug-laced paper into the jail with the help of his girlfriend, 23-year-old Kasandra Claudio.

Assistant State’s Attorney Rob Schwartz said Johnson approached a correctional officer in the jail’s maximum security wing and offered to pay them $1,500 for receiving the papers, laced with synthetic cannabinoids, from Claudio and bringing them into the jail.

Instead of doing that, the correctional officer went to their supervisor, launching an investigation. Police arrested Claudio after she delivered the papers to an undercover investigator at the North Riverside Park Mall last Thursday evening, officials said.

Paper problem

Like jail operators across the country, the Cook County sheriff’s office has been trying to cut off the supply of drug-infused papers sold between inmates.

Last month, the sheriff’s office enacted new restrictions after two private defense attorneys were caught bringing contaminated papers into the facility for client meetings. Under the new rules, defense attorneys who want to take paperwork to client meetings must schedule an appointment so the documents can be inspected. Correctional workers and county employees are also barred from taking paper into the jail unless it is work- or union-related.

Investigations into the private defense lawyers who allegedly brought contaminated papers into the facility remain active.

Sources familiar with the Cook County jail’s operations believe smuggled drugs are responsible for increasing in-custody deaths.

Medical examiner records show that 12 people have died in the jail so far this year. Two passed of natural causes, and one was murdered. The causes and manners of death in the other nine cases have yet to be determined.

By comparison, there were seven jail deaths during all of last year, two of which were attributed to drug ingestion. In 2021, two of the jail’s ten deaths were the result of drug use, according to medical examiner records. 

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