D'Andre Howard, who is charged with killing three members of a Hoffman Estates family, has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit claiming Cook County jail workers failed to protect him from being injured during a fight.
Howard's handwritten, 14-page complaint, filed Dec. 29 with the U.S. District Court, seeks "justices and civil action against the officer and county jail."
He names a Cook County corrections officer, the officer's supervisor and Sheriff Tom Dart in the complaint.
Howard's attorney in the murder case, Assistant Public Defender Dina Binstock, declined to comment Tuesday.
Dart's office did not return phone calls seeking comment Tuesday, and a spokeswoman said they had not yet been served with the complaint.
Howard has been jailed since April 2009, when he was charged with the first-degree stabbing murders of three members of his former fiancee's family: Conant High School senior Laura Engelhardt, 18; her father, Alan Engelhardt, 57; and her grandmother Marlene Gacek, 73. He's also charged with the attempted murder of his fiancee's mother, Shelly Engelhardt, who was stabbed but survived.
In the federal complaint, Howard says a fight broke out in the jail on Oct. 21 and he was "hit with soap socks, hard plastic dinner trays and cut with small weapons" and had to be taken to Stroger Hospital in Chicago. He does not specify what injuries he suffered.
Howard's complaint says the prison guard declined to call a "10-10" (a call of a fight in progress) or notify his supervisors about the fight. Howard also accuses the guard of later throwing him to the ground as other inmates kicked and hit him. He alleges the officer failed to protect him from injury.
Scott Slonim, supervisor of the Cook County public defender's office in Rolling Meadows, says it's rare for Cook County inmates to file federal civil rights lawsuits. However, the head of the John Howard Association, which tracks the Illinois prison system, says lawsuits by inmates are common but "almost impossible" to win.
"Inmates are very, very, very litigious. If you're sitting in prison with nothing to do, you become litigious," said John Maki, JHA's executive director. "Historically, Cook County jail has been a very problematic place. There's no doubt some very bad things happen there."
Maki said inmates' cases sometimes are thrown out because of the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996, which discourages prison litigation and requires inmates with complaints to go through the jail's administrative complaint process first.
Even if they do follow all of the proper steps, Maki said, it's very difficult for inmates to win court cases unless they have photographic evidence.
"If it comes to a judge believing an inmate or a jail guard or correctional officer, they're going to go with the jail guard or correctional officer," Maki said.