Illinois Bar Journal

January 2018Volume 106Number 1Page 12

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Indecent exposure

A group of Cook County public defenders is suing the sheriff and others in an effort to stop inmates from aggressively exposing themselves at the Cook County Jail.

When people think about the jobs of public defenders, they may think about the immense workloads that some PDs take on. They may think about the risks of defending a dangerous individual - and losing.

One workplace hazard that most of us probably don't realize is that some inmates in Cook County Jail have been exposing themselves to, and sometimes masturbating in front of, female public defenders and correctional officers. The problem has led to six female public defenders filing an equal protection lawsuit late last year in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Female correctional officers filed a similar lawsuit.

'[P]ervasive hostile work environment'

The suit is brought by six named plaintiffs who represent a class of female assistant public defenders (APDs) and female law clerks in the Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender. It alleges that the defendants caused and conspired to cause female APDs and law clerks to "suffer a continuing severe and/or pervasive hostile work environment on the basis of sex" in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution and the Illinois Gender Violence Act. See complaint on the ABA Journal website at It further alleges that due to the conduct of the defendants, the plaintiffs "are forced to regularly endure heinous sexual misconduct, robbing many of their love of the job, maybe permanently." Id.

In particular, over the last two years, this conduct has been increasingly prevalent in the courtroom lockups and Divisions 9 and 10 of the Cook County Jail where detainees "have repeatedly exposed their penises, masturbated, and engaged in other acts of sex-based aggression, verbal threats and harassment." Id. The complaint further alleges that the defendants have been aware of the problem and have not acted to prevent it.

Over 60 percent of the public defenders employed by the Cook County Public Defender's Office are women. The suit alleges that the problem is so pervasive that some APDs and law clerks are "subjected to multiple incidents, by multiple detainees on the same day." Id. The suit notes that APDs are not subjected to this behavior in the Illinois Department of Corrections lockup facility; those detainees are shackled or handcuffed, which is not the case in the Cook County Department of Corrections lockup.

The problems also occur at the Division 9 and 10 sections of the Cook County Jail, the suit alleges. In those facilities, detainees "often crowd the glass and expose themselves and/or masturbate through the windows while staring lewdly and aggressively at female APDs and law clerks as they attempt to discuss legal matters with their clients." Id. The suit suggests that detainees who have a prior history of this behavior be shackled or clothed in jumpsuits designed to prevent them from exposing themselves. The complaint also alleges that at least one of the named plaintiffs brought her concerns to the sheriff and was told that nothing could be done.

'Savage Life'

The source of the increase in this conduct is allegedly a group of detainees that calls itself "Savage Life." They award each other "points" for their misconduct. This has been reported in the Chicago Tribune and other media outlets. The complaint notes that bringing charges against the detainees can often be difficult because "it can result in creating a conflict and being forced off a case or creates the perception that they are creating more work for another APD." Id. The complaint also details several attempts the defendants made to curtail the behavior, to no avail.

On November 28, 2017, Judge Matthew Kennelly entered a preliminary injunction order granting the plaintiff's motion for injunctive relief. Defendant Thomas Dart did not oppose the entry of Kennelly's order (available on the ABA Journal website at The order directs the sheriff's office to preserve all documentary and video evidence of exposure, masturbation, and other sexual misconduct. The sheriff's office was also ordered to issue a directive that nobody should be discouraged from filing incident reports and to send an email to the Cook County Public Defender "for dissemination to APDs providing information regarding the process by which an APD may report an incident." Id.

What's more, the order requires the defendants to implement measures designed to prevent the conduct. Any detainee with a reported incident of misconduct will be required to wear a jumpsuit designed to thwart exposure or masturbation. They must also be handcuffed at all times during transfer from jail to court. They will remain handcuffed until their return to jail.

The suit is captioned Brown v. Cook County, 17-cv-8085. The complaint was filed on November 8, 2017.

Matthew Hector
Matthew Hector is a senior associate at Woerthwein & Miller.

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