Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart is appealing a federal judge’s order mandating the steps his office needs to take to social distance detainees and further curb the spread of the coronavirus at Cook County Jail.
Dart, who has defended his handling of the outbreak in the last few months, said the class action lawsuit seeking the release or transfer of elderly and medically compromised detainees has negatively effected jail operations.
Citing three recent appeals in circuit court, Dart, in a court filing Monday, said his legal team has “determined that a district court may not micromanage the complex day-to-day operations of running a jail, particularly not under threat of contempt, even as they work to maintain operational security in the Jail in the midst of a global pandemic.”
U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly last month issued a preliminary injunction that ordered the sheriff’s office to hold detainees in single cells, provide access to personal sanitation and protective equipment and additional COVID-19 testing.
Kennelly in his 87-page order stopped short of ordering the release of older detainees or those with underlying health issues.
Dart, in this week’s court filings, said attorneys for the detainees were abusing the court system to seek the release of their clients at all costs, which was causing disruptions at the jail.
“The perverse consequence is that their focus on release fills their clients with false hope, stoking further anxiety, frustration, and unrest in the Jail setting, which has manifested in detainee misconduct,” Dart wrote.
Dart also said lawyers representing detainees are seeking to monitor his compliance with the court’s order through their emergency petition, which he said they have no right to do.
The detainees’ attorneys last week asked for additional records from the sheriff’s office to determine if the jail was following the judge’s order to test inmates following the most recent detainee death at the jail.
Dart accused the lawyers of “grossly” misconstruing the judge’s order. The sheriff also said their response to a subsequent court-ordered report detailing changes his office made at the jail “draw questionable inferences that strain credibility.”
In a statement Tuesday, Alexa Van Brunt, an attorney for the detainees, said she was confident the injunction would be affirmed on appeal.
“We also find it unfortunate that the Sheriff is spending limited resources on fighting the injunction, rather than taking care to comply with the order, which is designed to protect detainees’ lives,” Van Brunt added.
More than 530 detainees and nearly 400 jail staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. Seven detainees, and three sheriff’s office employees have also died from complications related to coronavirus since late March.