By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader
Last October, a female employee entered the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC) and placed her purse in the metal detector. The device went off. So what was in her purse?
A security guard, his supervisor and even a Cook County sheriff says the woman had a gun inside her purse. There’s also a photograph showing the firearm. The incident was reported, but the two men who sounded the alarm were suspended for doing their job and following state law.
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Their suspensions have raised serious questions in two blistering lawsuits against several high-ranking JTDC officials who are accused of retaliation and working together to smear the reputation of a supervisor while punishing a security guard for reporting an incident as required by law.
The most prominent defendant in both complaints is one of Cook County’s most respected public officials: Chief Judge Timothy Evans, who is accused of allowing unethical conduct to go unchecked as part of an effort to malign the reputation of a supervisor while favoring Leonard Dixon, whom he appointed as the second highest ranking employee at the JTDC. One lawsuit alleges the suspensions were part of a power move to remove and damage the reputation of Supervisor Fitzgerald Mullins and disqualify him from contention as the next superintendent.
The Crusader obtained copies of both lawsuits, which were filed in January and May of this year in the Circuit Court of Cook County. They were filed by John Doyle, a security specialist, and Mullins, his supervisor. They filed separate lawsuits, but share the same attorneys: Ivan M. Rittenberg and John Thomas Moran Jr. Both plaintiffs request a jury trial for their case. Rittenberg said Doyle has worked as a security specialist for eight years at the JTDC. Mullins started working at the facility in 1992, according to his lawsuit.
Although separate, both lawsuits are related and share the same allegations. However, for Mullins as a supervisor, the suspension could ruin a career that he spent nearly two decades building.
Doyle reported to Mullins on Oct. 7, 2017 that a woman identified as SIC WEST in the lawsuit entered the JTDC located at 1100 S. Hamilton Ave. On that day, Doyle was assigned to work the metal detector. According to Doyle’s lawsuit, West went through the metal detector and a buzzer went off and scanner lit up. West was asked if she was bringing a firearm into the JTDC. She said no, according to Doyle’s lawsuit.
West then left the screening area before she was approached by another JTDC officer, who’s identified as Womack in the complaint. Womack told West to return to the screening area, but she took seven minutes to do so, according to Doyle in his lawsuit.
In Mullins’ lawsuit, it stated that “West was seen leaving the JTDC unaccompanied and meeting a car in front of the building. This occurred while the investigation was in the process and gave her every opportunity to dispose of and remove a firearm.” Doyle’s lawsuit makes the same allegation.
Both lawsuits say when West returned to the X-ray machine, she placed her handbag on the conveyor belt before it was scanned again from the metal detector. This time, the buzzer did not go off and the scanner did not light up.
Doyle’s lawsuit provided two before-and-after photo scans of the contents of West’s purse. In the photo taken the first time, a star badge for an officer and what appears to be a firearm are visible. In the other photo scan taken on West’s second trip through the metal detector, both items are gone. It appears that the previously scanned contents had been rearranged.
Rittenberg—Doyle and Mullins’ attorney—is waiting for a response to his letter requesting surveillance videos at the JTDC, hoping they would confirm his clients’ allegations or suspicions that West left the facility to dispose of the firearm.
Bringing a firearm into the JTDC by anyone other than a deputy sheriff of Cook County is prohibited by state law. There is a notice posted at the entrance to the JTDC.
As part of his job, Doyle reported the incident to Mullins, who then, reviewed the two images. Mullins then notified the sheriff and a police report was completed according to his lawsuit. The lawsuit also said the sheriff’s report noted that West had brought an illegal firearm into the JTDC.
Both lawsuits show Leonard Dixon, superintendent for JTDC, intervened in the case in what was an unusual move for a facility that has its own investigative unit that examines internal incidents involving facility employees.
Dixon said the item that appeared in West’s purse was actually a sunglass case and not a firearm. Mullins’ lawsuit says Dixon then requested the sheriff’s office not to investigate Mullin’s report or take a report on it. Mullins said in his lawsuit that Dixon then ordered him to tell his staff that the item West brought into the JTDC was a sunglass case and not a gun.
Mullins and Doyle said they were victims of retaliation for doing their jobs. Mullins was suspended on Nov. 3 for one day and Doyle for 20 days. Both were suspended without pay. Doyle was charged with violation of “General Work Rules” and “Employee Safety.” Mullins’ lawsuit gave no reasons for his suspension. West was not disciplined.
Based on the lawsuits, the suspensions were approved without Dixon, deputy superintendent Diane McGhee and personnel hearing officer Bruce Burger ever presenting any evidence to support their claim that the item was indeed a sunglass case. All of the deputies are named as defendants in Doyle’s lawsuit.
In their lawsuits, Mullins and Doyle claim they were excluded by Dixon and his deputies “from all aspects” of the investigation that led to their suspensions.
Both lawsuits claim that Dixon, McGhee and Burger conspired together under the authority of Evans, who according to the complaint, “had a duty to insure, direct and control the conduct of his subordinates, the other defendants, herein, so they did not violate Illinois or federal law.”
Questions remain as to why it took West so long to return to the screening area and whether a sunglass case can set off a metal detector when it is scanned in a handbag.
In his lawsuit, Doyle claims the real reason he was suspended was because Dixon viewed Doyle as a political ally of Mullins
Mullins, in his lawsuit, said, “It was common knowledge…that he would seek the superintendent position when Dixon’s term expired.”
Because they were suspended, both plaintiffs question why Dixon or his deputies never produced any evidence of the sunglass case to justify their decision. Mullins’ lawsuit claims that as part of police procedures, the sunglass case should have been inventoried, photographed and captured on image from the metal detector. Mullins alleges none of this was done and he, Doyle and their attorneys are demanding answers.
Pat Milhizer, Evans’ director of communications, stated that by Illinois law, sitting judges are prohibited from commenting on impending litigation.
As of press time Wednesday, Crusader staff researchers found no filed responses to the lawsuits.
The State’s Attorney General’s office is representing Evans. The Cook County State’s Attorney’s office is representing the other defendants.
The Illinois Attorney General’s office has until June 12 to file a response to Mullins’ lawsuit. The Cook County State’s Attorney has until June 11 to file a response to Doyle’s lawsuit. Motions have been filed to dismiss both lawsuits, but Rittenberg amended Mullins’ complaint in May to strengthen his case. The next court date for Mullins lawsuit is June 19. The next court date for Doyle’s lawsuit is June 20.
Doyle demands that JTDC compensate him twice the amount of lost pay, including interest on back pay and attorney fees. Mullins seeks $100,000 in damages and compensation, twice the amount of back pay and attorney fees as well. Mullins also seeks to have the violations removed from his personnel file, placing him in the same position held before the alleged retaliatory act.