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Inmate’s death prompts safety changes at Lake County Jail

Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran talks reporters just before tour jail show some new equipment designed make jail safer for

Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran talks to reporters just before a tour of the jail to show some of the new equipment designed to make the jail safer for inmates and correctional officers. | Frank Abderholden/Sun-Times Media

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Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran and his top aides reported to a Lake County Board committee meeting Wednesday to announce sweeping changes at the jail following Eugene Gruber’s death while in custody on Halloween 2011.

Gruber, who was 51, died from a spinal cord injury suffered during a takedown in a shower area after he was sprayed with pepper spray for allegedly fighting correctional officers trying to process him into the jail. The Grayslake man was charged with disorderly conduct and criminal trespass to property.

Fifteen correctional employees were investigated after the incident, Curran told the county’s Finance and Administrative Committee on Wednesday. Three of them were fired; a sergeant was demoted back to correctional officer; seven received a total of 195 suspension hours; five were cleared of any wrongdoing; and two more are still being questioned this week.

The jail’s 138 policies have been reviewed; six critical policies were rewritten, and one new policy has been created.

“The policies are very significant because they make people accountable. It takes away excuses for why they didn’t do what they were supposed to do,” Undersheriff Raymond Rose said.

“There was mismanagement because policies were not enforced, logbooks were forged by officers when the inmate was not monitored and officers failed to recognize unusual behavior,” Rose added. “There was a culture of self protection . . . and that’s disturbing.”

Correctional officers must now take 15 core training classes over the first five years they are employed by the jail.

The firm that provided medical care at the jail, Correct Care Solutions, was dismissed for their role in the death, according to county officials. A medical staff member checked on Gruber but allegedly told guards the inmate was faking an injury, officials said.

County leaders said Gruber was dragged through a hallway to have his mugshot taken and fingerprints made.

“I have no answer,” Rose told the committee when asked why Gruber was dragged through the jail. “They shouldn’t have done that; it’s not acceptable. We now have equipment for transport.”

That includes two $1,500 emergency restraint chairs.

About 15 hours after Gruber was brought back from booking, a supervisor found him in severe distress. A nurse was called but didn’t arrive for 30 minutes and an ambulance later took Gruber to a local hospital. He died on March 3, 2012, while being treated for his injuries at a Chicago rehabilitation center.

The incident, which cost the county $1.95 million in a court settlement to Gruber’s estate, also resulted in costs of $249,872 for equipment and consultants, including $104,000 for a special investigator.

The sheriff’s office has budgeted about $1 million for a new camera system. Some of the existing jail cameras cannot record, and blind spots were found inside the facility. A camera also has been installed in the shower area where Gruber fought with officers.

“We need to have them so we have eyes everywhere because it’s for inmate protection and for correctional officers,” Rose said.

Jail Chief Dave Wathem also unveiled 44 new body cameras that will be used by officers.

“They can turn them on before they get to the incident. Not until its over can they turn them off,” Wathem said.

The jail brought in a new health care provider, Wexford Health Sources, on a $225,000 contract that calls for an electronic medical records system.

Interim Health Services Administrator Linda Follenweider, the sheriff’s liaison to Wexford, said the system offers enhanced and early identification of high-risk inmates. According to the county, Gruber was homeless and had been to the jail numerous times.

“We are going to take care of policing ourselves,” Rose said at the end of his presentation. “It means inspections and compliance is going to be our culture.”

Pat Carey, vice chairman of the committee, thanked Curran and his staff for being candid about the mistakes that were made.

“Things did go wrong,” she said. “Policy and procedures will correct the situation.”

“We’re hoping an incident like this never happens again,” County Board member Audrey Nixon added.

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