Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart is facing a lawsuit for holding people in jail even after a judge ordered their release.
Cara Smith, chief policy officer for the sheriff, said as of Wednesday afternoon there were eight people in jail that judges have ordered released on Electronic Monitoring while they await their trials. Smith said the sheriff believes it would be unsafe to return those people to their communities and the office is sending those cases back to the courts for review.
The lawsuit filed earlier this week alleges Dart’s actions are unconstitutional.
“These additional reviews and the resulting prolonged detention, without legal justification, are blatant violations of accused people’s constitutional right to release after a bond has been set by a judge and paid,” said attorney Sara Garber, the lead attorney on the lawsuit.
But Smith says Electronic Monitoring is “the sheriff’s program, and we can set the criteria for who the program is for.”
“There are offenders who when returned to the community will continue to engage in violence, will continue to add to the unrest that too many communities face,” Smith said.
Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli wrote a letter Wednesday to Tom Dart raising concerns about his actions.
“As the Sheriff, you do not have the authority to hold someone because you disagree with a judge’s ruling,” she wrote. “You are not in a superior position to decide custody; that is why judges are elected. It is your obligation to provide security at the jail, not pick and choose its residents,” Campanelli wrote.
The lawsuit comes after Sheriff Tom Dart wrote a letter last week to Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle expressing concerns over what he called an “alarming” trend: judges are ordering more people with gun charges to be released on Electronic Monitoring. It’s the result of bail reform efforts in Cook County to keep fewer people behind bars just because they can’t afford high bail amounts.
In his letter, Dart expressed continued support for bail reform, but expressed concern that it must be done while protecting public safety.
Attorneys who represent the people being detained said in addition to the federal lawsuit, they want Cook County judges to review Dart’s actions and see if he should be held in contempt of court.
Shannon Heffernan is a criminal justice reporter. Follow her @shannon_h.