Jail inmate made shank from COVID mask wires: prosecutors

CHICAGO — A Cook County jail inmate is facing additional felony charges for crafting a knife out of metal wires he removed from COVID masks, officials said Friday.

During a conversation early in the pandemic, a jail employee explained the challenges of fighting the virus: “If we give [inmates] bar soap, they make weapons out of it. If we give them liquid soap, they drink it. If we give them hand sanitizer, they set it on fire.”

But Terry Sturgis, a 25-year-old who’s been in jail since January on gun charges, may be the first to think about alternate uses for the metal bands that hold COVID masks tight to the nose.

During a bail hearing Friday, prosecutors said jail officials searched Sturgis’ cell on February 16 after receiving a tip that someone in his division had contraband. Sturgis and his cellmate were asleep in their bunk beds when correctional officers entered around 3:45 p.m.

Terry Sturgis | Cook County sheriff’s office; NurseTogether/Creative Commons

Upon searching Sturgis’ sheets, the officers found a homemade knife constructed with “multiple wires from COVID masks” that were twisted together, Assistant State’s Attorney Domenica Devitt said. The shank had a pointed end and a COVID mask tied around it as a handle, according to Devitt.

Asked about the item, Sturgis told officials he was “only going to use it to stitch up his pants for court,” Devitt said.

Sturgis is charged with unlawful possession of a weapon in a penal institution. Judge Maryam Ahmad handed him a recognizance bond for the new charge, explaining that he could not afford the bail amounts in his pending cases.

Sturgis entered the jail on January 23 after CTA surveillance officers allegedly saw him adjusting a gun in his waistband as he exited a Red Line train at 79th Street. He had another gun case pending at the time.

“Possession of dangerous weapons in jail is a risk to the health and safety of our staff and individuals in custody,” a sheriff’s office spokesperson said. “The sheriff’s office will aggressively investigate and pursue charges against those who manufacture or possess these weapons.”

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