Attorneys for the city of Chicago filed an amicus brief in federal court Wednesday night, outlining opposition to a lawsuit that calls for Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart to release detainees from the county jail to protect them against the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Corporation Counsel Mark A. Flessner and Deputy Corporation Counsel Stephen J. Kane contend in the three-page document that releasing medically vulnerable detainees “threatens to consume the resources of the [c]ity and endanger the health of its residents.”
Doing so also would place city residents at “an increased risk of being the victims of serious crimes” because “the overwhelming majority” of violent detainees housed at the jail “will likely return to Chicago.”
Responding to alleged crimes by released detainees would “divert critical police resources,” and released detainees could experience homelessness or potentially infect city residents, police officers and other city employees, the city’s attorneys wrote.
Wednesday’s filing comes one day after a telephonic emergency hearing took place between Dart’s legal team and lawyers for the detainees before U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly.
Kennelly did not rule on Tuesday, asking instead for new briefs in the suit, which seeks class-action status for all of the jail’s remaining detainees that have chronic or underlying medical conditions.
Alleging that detainees cannot practice measures and that staff do not have gear to combat the spread of the virus, the suit also seeks a temporary restraining order that would release any detainee whose continued detention amid the coronavirus pandemic violated his constitutional right.
As of Wednesday evening, the jail population was at 4,508 — down more than 1,000 from last month. Officials reported 251 detainees and 150 sheriff’s office employees have tested positive for the virus.
Dart held in his response filed Tuesday that he is “doing everything humanely possible” to comply with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to combat the virus, including implementing social distancing and quarantine protocols, and identifying medically compromised detainees.
Dart also alleges that the detainees “cannot establish their state court remedies have not been exhausted” because Circuit Judge LeRoy K. Martin Jr. and Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans issued separate orders last month authorizing expedited bond hearings and emergency bond reviews.
The city echoed that argument in its brief, asking Kennelly to compel the detainees to seek relief through the circuit court, which “has established a process by which detainees at the [j]ail can be individually reviewed to determine whether they are suitable candidates for release.”
In a footnote to their response filings, attorneys for the detainees contend that the named plaintiffs were arrested after Martin’s special en masse bond proceedings last month, meaning “they would not have had this remedy to pursue, or otherwise had their bond review denied in those proceedings.”
And, exhausting the bond-review process or completing one round of the state’s appellate review process, they added, would take “at least weeks, if not months,” or “in time to prevent irreparable harm to [p]laintiffs’ health and lives.”
Attorneys and advocates representing the detainees include Stephen H. Weil and Sarah C. Grady of Loevy & Loevy; Locke E. Bowman and Alexa A. Van Brunt of the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center; and Charles Gerstein and Alex Karakatsanis of Civil Rights Corps in Washington, D.C.
Weil could not immediately provide comment.
Dart is represented by Robert T. Shannon, James M. Lydon, Gretchen Harris Sperry, Adam R. Vaught and Lari Dierks of Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP.
They could not be reached for comment.
This case is Anthony Mays et al. v. Thomas Dart, 20 C 2134.