No. 10 of 2012: Two jail deaths prompt lawsuits
By Frank Abderholden firstname.lastname@example.org December 28, 2012 7:50PM
A much-anticipated review of the Lake County Jail by an ex-Cook County prosecutor after two people died within a two-month period should be finished in the new year.
Lyvita Gomes, 52, a native of Mumbai, India, was picked up on a warrant for missing a court date related to not reporting to jury duty, but she was ineligible to serve because she was not a citizen. Once she was locked in Lake County jail she launched a 15-day hunger strike that would send her to the hospital, where she died a week later.
Attorney Jan Susler contends Gomes “was struggling with mental health issues.”
Despite that assessment, health workers and jail officials “stood by as she withered away before their eyes,” Susler contended in a civil rights lawsuit. Gomes lost at least 18 pounds in the 15 days she was jailed, before authorities moved her to a hospital, where she died Jan. 3.
The other death involved Eugene Gruber, 51, of Grayslake suffering paralyzing neck injuries while struggling with officers in the jail. Gruber was arrested Oct. 31, 2011 for disorderly conduct and criminal trespass, then allegedly became uncooperative in the jail, prompting officers to physically restrain and pepper-spray him.
Security cameras later showing him being dragged as his legs dangled unmoving, though an attorney representing Lake County said jail personnel weren’t aware Gruber had been seriously hurt. Gruber was transferred a day later to a Waukegan hospital and died March 3, 2012 while being treated for his injuries at a Chicago rehab center.
A critical issue is how inmates needing health care are assessed and treated, said attorney Mark Smolens, who represents Gruber’s sister in her pending federal lawsuit. A contract medical firm, Correct Care Solutions, is paid about $2 million annually to provide health services at the jail. They have not responded to press inquiries.
The lawsuit contends Gruber was beaten during the altercation and that his requests for medical assistance were denied. Medical staffers from Correct Care didn’t properly assess or treat Gruber for his injuries, says the lawsuit.
The Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office reviewed the case and concluded there was no indication jail officers intentionally harmed Gruber, though that probe didn’t touch on the role played by medical workers.
The deaths prompted Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran to appoint a former prosecutor to independently investigate how jail employees dealt with Gomes and Gruber. Attorney Terry Ekl, an ex-Cook County prosecutor who has conducted investigations of several suburban police departments, will examine whether officials should change procedures for handling inmates — particularly those needing medical attention — at the 608-bed jail in downtown Waukegan.