Curran says he'll run for Lake County state's attorney

Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran said Monday he will run for Lake County state's attorney in 2016 because the office is "headed in the wrong direction" and a change is needed at the top.

The surprise announcement sets up a potentially heated battle between Curran, who has been sheriff since 2006, and incumbent Michael Nerheim, who is in his first term in office. Curran said he would run as a Republican and face Nerheim in the April primary.

"Mike Nerheim has done nothing to raise the caliber of the office," Curran said in a news release. "Today I made an opening statement, but I will be presenting evidence throughout the campaign that change is needed."

Curran said the Lake County state's attorney's office has been responsible for six wrongful convictions since 2010. Those cases include overturned convictions involving Juan Rivera, Jerry Hobbs, James Edwards and Benny Starks, Curran said, and noted the Rivera case resulted in the single largest wrongful conviction settlement in U.S. history at $20 million.

All six of the wrongful convictions - Angel Gonzalez and Jason Strong also were cleared in 2015 - took place under former Lake County State's Attorney Michael Waller and before Nerheim was elected to the office in 2012.

But Curran stressed Nerheim kept his predecessor's top officials in place despite a pledge to reform the office.

"Lake County's law enforcement agencies are held financially liable for wrongful convictions because the state's attorney's office has immunity - this is an ongoing concern for the county, municipalities and ultimately taxpayers," the news release stated. "The same decision-makers who ran the office under Mike Waller continue to run the office under Mike Nerheim."

Nerheim was unavailable for comment Monday because he is attending the National Commission on Forensic Science subcommittee on human factors, campaign manager Michael Ori said.

But Ori said Nerheim was named the Illinois State Crime Commission State's Attorney of the Year in 2014 and was awarded a certificate of appreciation from the Lake County Sheriff's Association.

"We have an open primary system in that anyone who is a Republican can run against Mike in the primary," Ori said. "Considering what he's accomplished while serving as Lake County state's attorney, Mike welcomes any and all challenges."

Curran is not without his own controversies while running the sheriff's office for the past nine years.

Lake County paid a $1.95 million settlement in 2014 for the mistreatment of former prisoner Eugene Gruber after the Grayslake man was paralyzed in a 2011 scuffle with jail guards and dragged through the jail to be photographed after being injured. Gruber died in 2012.

An internal and independent investigation into Gruber's death revealed mismanagement in the jail, falsified logbooks, poor supervision and other problems. Curran fired three jailhouse guards, two were charged, and one was demoted after an investigation.

Relatives of Lyvita Gomes of Vernon Hills also sued the county on accusations jail administrators and the sheriff ignored her mental illness and denied her appropriate medical care when she was incarcerated in 2012. She died in the jail after a hunger strike, and autopsy reports show she was dehydrated and malnourished. That case hasn't been resolved.

Curran was sued in federal court by former deputy Heather Aldridge, who claimed she was subjected to unwarranted disciplinary warnings and other actions for years while working as a K-9 officer.

In the news release announcing his candidacy, Curran said he served as an assistant Lake County state's attorney from 1990 to 1998 and in the Illinois attorney general's office from 1998 to 2002. He worked as a private attorney from 2002 until he was elected sheriff.

Curran said he would not hold both offices should he win the state's attorney's job in the 2016 election. He said he'd step down and recommend Undersheriff Ray Rose be appointed Lake County sheriff. The sheriff's post is up for election in 2018.

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