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updated: 4/11/2012 5:50 PM

Special investigator assigned to Lake County jail death case

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A special prosecutor has been ordered to investigate the death of a Grayslake man who was paralyzed after an altercation with guards at the Lake County jail.

The order, issued Wednesday by Lake County Chief Judge Victoria Rosetti, concerns the March 3 death of Eugene Gruber. It came after the Cook County medical examiner's office ruled Gruber's death a homicide.

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The Lake County state's attorney's office had requested a special prosecutor because of a potential conflict of interest, said Christen Bishop, chief of special investigations for the office. The state's attorney typically represents the sheriff's office in legal matters.

Rosetti ordered the state's attorney appellate prosecutor's office, which handles appeals cases for Illinois' various counties, to assign a lawyer to the case.

Gruber, 51, died about four months after the confrontation at the jail.

He had been arrested Oct. 31 and charged with disorderly conduct and trespassing. Officials said he was combative when he was brought in.

A state's attorney's report says a guard used a neck-twisting "takedown" move while struggling to change Gruber's clothes.

Gruber was hospitalized in Lake County after the altercation and then transferred to a Chicago rehabilitation hospital. He was pronounced dead at Mount Sinai Hospital in Chicago.

An autopsy performed by the Cook County medical examiner's office attributed Gruber's death to pneumonia resulting from paraplegia. That injury was caused by spinal injuries suffered in the altercation, according to Gruber's death certificate.

A former flight attendant and carpenter, Gruber was survived by his parents and other relatives. His father, George Gruber, declined to answer questions Wednesday.

An attorney for the Lake County sheriff's office, which runs the jail, downplayed the medical examiner's ruling, saying it doesn't indicate wrongdoing in Gruber's death.

Itasca attorney James Sotos, who is defending the sheriff's office and Lake County against a lawsuit brought by Gruber's relatives, said Wednesday the finding of homicide will have no impact on the legal action.

"If you read the medical examiner's report, you will not find a single line suggesting anyone (in the sheriff's employ) did anything wrong," Sotos said. "The finding of homicide simply means that the death occurred as a result of the actions of another."

Sheriff Mark Curran had planned to spend this week as an inmate in the jail as a show of the faith he has in corrections personnel, but he canceled those plans because of a "scheduling conflict," according to a news release from his office.

Sotos said he advised Curran to cancel the news conference that was supposed to accompany the self-imposed incarceration.

"I simply advised my clients that, as the targets of legal action, I was not comfortable with a public discussion of the issues in this case," Sotos said. "I am the scheduling conflict in this matter."

Daily Herald wire services contributed to this report.

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