Three Lake County jail guards fired after inmate's death
Three Lake County jail officers have been fired and a sergeant was demoted this week following investigations into a 2011 confrontation with an inmate that led to his paralysis and eventual death, authorities announced Wednesday.
Six other jail employees also face disciplinary action in the case, which involved a homeless man named Eugene Gruber, Undersheriff Raymond J. Rose said.
"We clearly underreacted in this Gruber incident," Rose told the Lake County Board's financial and administrative committee during a presentation Wednesday.
Internal and independent investigations into Gruber's death revealed mismanagement in the jail, falsified logbooks, poor supervision and other problems, Rose said.
"Nobody realized what they were doing was wrong," Rose said.
Gruber, 51, formerly of Grayslake, was injured Oct. 31, 2011, after an arrest by sheriff's deputies. Charged with disorderly conduct and trespassing, Gruber was "intoxicated and uncooperative," Rose said.
Gruber repeatedly fought with jail guards, Rose said, and eventually one placed him in a "takedown hold" to restrain him. Both Gruber and the officer fell to the ground, and authorities believe that's when Gruber suffered a spinal injury.
Gruber then was placed in a cell, Rose recounted.
Fifteen hours later, two corrections officers dragged Gruber to a different area of the jail to be photographed, Rose said. His complaints that he couldn't move his legs went unheeded, Rose said.
Afterward, Gruber was carried back to his cell, Rose said.
Terry Ekl, a defense attorney hired by the sheriff's office to independently investigate the Gruber case, criticized this treatment in his report.
"The manner in which Mr. Gruber was transported from his cell and photographed was unreasonable and improper," Ekl wrote.
Ekl also criticized jail staff members for not promptly getting Gruber medical attention. Additionally, Ekl found inaccurate entries in a book used to record security checks of inmates.
Gruber eventually was taken to a hospital, and his paralysis was confirmed. He died the following March at a rehabilitation hospital in Chicago.
No criminal charges have been filed in the case.
Gruber's family settled a lawsuit against the county for $1.95 million earlier this year.
Rose, Sheriff Mark Curran and other officials spoke to the committee Wednesday about Gruber's injury and death, and the changes the sheriff's office has implemented since then.
For example, a different company now oversees medical services for inmates.
Additionally, guards and other jail employees are equipped with small, personal cameras used to record actions when crises arise.
Prisoner inspections are more common, too, Rose said, and steps have been taken to improve communication regarding prisoners' medical issues.
The actions of 15 corrections officers and supervisors were investigated after Gruber's death. Five were cleared, Rose said.
The officer who placed Gruber in the takedown hold that likely caused his injury was suspended for 30 days, Rose said.
Ekl didn't fault the officer for that action in his report. He was targeted for disciplinary action for making false statements regarding the incident, as were several other officers.
After Curran and his team wrapped up Wednesday's presentation, committee members asked a few questions and thanked the sheriff for the information.
Gruber was the second jail inmate who died in 2012. That January, Vernon Hills resident Lyvita Gomes died after a hunger strike at the jail. She was dehydrated and malnourished, an autopsy showed.
A federal lawsuit was filed after her death. Relatives said jail administrators and the sheriff ignored her mental illness and denied her appropriate medical care.
That case hasn't been resolved.