Lake County launches investigation of jail deaths
(MCT) — Lake County officials on Wednesday appointed a private attorney to independently investigate whether sheriff's employees engaged in misconduct in the recent deaths of two Lake County Jail inmates.
Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran Jr. announced the hiring of Terry Ekl, a former Cook County prosecutor turned criminal defense attorney, to investigate the deaths of Eugene Gruber and Lyvita Gomes. Ekl will also look at whether the jail needs to make any institutional changes to protect its inmates.
"I want to know if there are problems with the daily operations and safety within the Lake County Jail," Curran said in a statement announcing the probe. "I am open-minded concerning making any and all changes necessary to improve the operational safety of the Lake County Jail for both inmates and officers."
Gruber, 51, of Grayslake, died in a hospital of pneumonia resulting from paralysis on March 3, four months after he was injured during a confrontation with jail guards.
Records obtained by the Tribune show he was drunk and belligerent when he was arrested for disorderly conduct and trespassing Oct. 31. When he resisted efforts to change his clothes, records show, guards performed a neck-twisting take-down move.
Gruber complained that he couldn't move, and a jail surveillance video showed him being dragged by guards through the facility before he was taken away for treatment almost 24 hours later.
Mark Smolens, an attorney for Gruber's family who has filed suit on their behalf, called Ekl a fine lawyer, but added, "On behalf of the family, they don't have a lot of confidence in the folks of Lake County to investigate themselves."
Jail officials say they often deal with intoxicated inmates who can't or won't move, and they relied on the advice of the jail's medical contractor, Correct Care Solutions, which indicated Gruber wasn't paralyzed. One nurse from Correct Care was fired as a result.
The Lake County state's attorney's office concluded there was no criminal wrongdoing, but after the Lake County coroner ruled the death a homicide, the state's attorney asked for a special prosecutor to review the case.
Gomes, 52, of Vernon Hills, a native of India who had shown signs of mental illness, died Jan. 3 after a 15-day hunger strike. She had been charged with resisting arrest after missing jury duty, and was in jail for 10 days before being transferred to a hospital, where she died five days later.
She has no family in the area, but Alfredo Miranda, a Waukegan funeral home owner who became involved in the case, said he and local clergy met with jail officials after the death.
"It's about time someone is trying to do the right thing after doing a number of things incorrectly," he said. "They were pretty nonchalant about the events leading to her death as being strictly a suicide."
Jail officials said they were shaken by her death, but again relied on the medical advice of Correct Care Solutions, which monitored Gomes' vital signs every four hours.
Ekl will look at whether sheriff's workers violated department procedures; whether deficient medical care in jail was a factor; and whether training, policies, equipment and jail facilities are adequate to protect inmates, according to the sheriff's news release.
Ekl promised a thorough and independent investigation, noting he made critical findings and recommendations after investigations of police in Mount Prospect and Park Ridge.
"I'm going to investigate all aspects of the two deaths," he said. "My reputation is more important to me than any one case I'm involved in."