By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader
Few said it was a sunglass case. Many believed it was a gun. What was the item that a female employee at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center was stopped and questioned about after the scanner on the metal detector went off and lit up in the early morning hours of Oct. 7, 2017?
After dozens of interviews and several tests through metal detectors at courthouses in Chicago, the Crusader has learned that the item could not have been a sunglass case.
It was indeed a gun in the X-ray scan.
A felony was committed, an incident report was filed with the Cook County Sheriff’s office and the safety of hundreds of people was compromised. Eight months after a state law was violated, there are questions of whether the Cook County Sheriff’s office conducted a thorough investigation of a female employee who stands accused of bringing a gun into the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center facility at 1100 S. Hamilton Ave.
Her name is Lynne West, a supervisor-in-charge who, according to the Cook County data portal, made $80,381 last year. Was she questioned? Were surveillance tapes reviewed? Was a car that she allegedly went to before her handbag was scanned a second time searched?
They are questions that remain unanswered some 249 days after West walked away unscathed from an incident that has sparked two lawsuits and calls for a new investigation. However, the two people who reported that a gun was detected when West’s purse was scanned were suspended. The Cook County State’s Attorney office tried, but failed to have their subsequent lawsuits dismissed. Three high-ranking officials at the JTDC are accused of conspiring to cover up the incident.
Chief Judge Timothy Evans is accused of allowing misconduct to go undisciplined.
At the heart of the story is an X-ray scan of an employee’s handbag containing what appears to be a gun, along with a star-shaped badge-like item.
The top brass at JTDC says the item appearing like a gun is a sunglass case. But the Crusader put that argument to the test at metal detectors at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse, the Leighton Criminal Courts Building, the Daley Center, and the Cook County Circuit Courthouse at 555 W. Harrison in Chicago.
On each test, the reporter had his briefcase scanned with a sunglass case inside. On every test, the scanner failed to light up and go off, and the reporter left the screening area without being questioned about the item.
Three of the four security specialists at the screening areas stated a sunglass case would never trigger an alarm. They added that the sunglass case and the gun can easily be identified as such on the scan. Additionally, if a person walks through the metal detector with a sunglass case in their pocket, the metal hinges on the item would set off the screening device.
In the incident at the JTDC, West had her handbag scanned at 5:45 a.m. on Oct. 7, 2017. In his lawsuit, John Doyle, the security specialist who worked the metal detector that morning, said the scanner lit up and the detector went off.
Two lawsuits state West took seven minutes to return to the screening area before her handbag was scanned a second time where a badge and the item in question were gone. Doyle reported the incident to his supervisor, Fitzgerald Mullins, who filed an incident report with the Cook County Sheriff’s office. Doyle and Mullins were suspended and accused Leonard Dixon, superintendent at the JTDC of doing an investigation himself rather than turning it over to the facility’s investigative unit.
When the X-ray scan of West’s items are magnified, one can see an ‘L’ shaped item with what looked like the trigger. In addition to the trips to courthouses, the Crusader spoke to dozens of people, including some in law enforcement. All, but one, said the scan looked like a gun. The lone one said it could be, but was uncertain.
In an online poll, 91 votes (96 percent) came from readers who said the item was a gun. Four people (4 percent) said the item was a sunglass case.
State law prohibits a firearm in the JTDC. A violation is considered a Class X felony, which could lead to a prison sentence between six to 30 years. Mullins and Doyle reported the incident as required by their jobs.
After repeated requests, the Crusader obtained the incident report from the Cook County Sheriff’s office. The emailed report (SO17-096565) did not include the photo scan of the gun, but it included the narrative where Mullins said he saw a “picture of what looked to be a weapon in a handbag taken by a JTDC linescan machine.”
In their lawsuits that alleged retaliation, Mullins and Doyle said after the gun was detected, West left the screening area and was seen leaving the JTDC unaccompanied and meeting a car in front of the building. This occurred while the investigation was in process and gave her every opportunity to dispose of and remove a firearm.”
West is a supervisor who was reported by Doyle, a subordinate, when the X-ray scan revealed what she had in her handbag.
At first, Sophia Angari, a spokesperson for the Cook County Sheriff’s office, said the department did not investigate because the JTDC said there was no gun found. On June 13, the Crusader spoke with Cara Smith, Cook County Sheriff’s Chief Policy officer, and she said after the incident report, the Cook County officers searched the building, but no gun was found.
Smith said the X-ray scan was actually a “misread,” but when the Crusader asked about the second X-ray, where not only the gun and badge were missing, but also a cell phone, Smith was unable to give an explanation. She was unaware that two lawsuits that included the X-ray scans as evidence had been filed.
The Crusader reporter also asked why would someone who had a sunglass case take so long to return to the screening area or go back to her car and dispose of it as if it was illegal to bring a sunglass case in the facility.
“I don’t know,” Smith replied. “We’re satisfied that no weapon was found.”
When asked, “Was there a search of West’s car or did officers view surveillance video to verify Mullins and Doyle’s allegations that she left the building to dispose of the firearm in a vehicle, Smith replied, “I don’t know, but whatever, the due diligence was we did that.”
With Dixon’s credibility in question, there is concern of whether the Sheriff’s office relied too much on the superintendent instead of being independent and investigating the incident report on its own.
“What do they base their misread of the X-ray scan on? They never followed up on the report,” said Alan Rittenberg, an attorney who’s representing Dole and Mullins in their lawsuits.
Rittenberg has filed a legal request for the surveillance video to see if West was captured on tape leaving the building after she was questioned about a gun. Sources tell the Crusader that surveillance video at the facility is erased 30 days after the incident. Or was the tape preserved?