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Chicago lawsuit alleges pattern of ‘masturbation attacks’ from inmates




A federal judge on Monday refused to dismiss two class-action lawsuits from female jail staff and public defenders in Chicago who allege that inmates coordinated a series of “masturbation attacks” against them.

The staff are accusing Cook County of enabling a hostile work environment and failing to protect them from the attacks.

A court ruling from US District Judge Matthew Kennelly outlined the allegations that a prison gang called “Savage Life” orchestrated the attacks on jail staff and turned it into a game, awarding each other higher points for higher-ranking targets.

“Although each attack was different, a common theme emerged: detainees targeted women assistant public defenders and law clerks for attacks that involved exposing their penises and masturbating while making eye contact with or otherwise directing their conduct toward their target,” Kennelly said in his ruling. “These attacks were commonly accompanied by verbal threats and, occasionally, physical contact.”

Handcuffs and jumpsuits for bad behavior; pizza parties for good behavior

Inmates are processed at the Cook County Jail in Chicago, Illinois, May 20, 2014.
Reuters/Jim Young

Read more: A veteran died in jail and his brain, heart, and throat were mysteriously removed from his body — and now his family wants answers

Litigation over the masturbation attacks has been ongoing for years, and officials have implemented a number of remedies to try and stop the attacks. In 2017, Kennelly even ordered that detainees be handcuffed and placed in special jumpsuits during their court appearances.

In his Monday ruling, Kennelly said that one Cook County Sheriff’s Office official threw a group of detainees a pizza party in 2016 to reward them for refraining from masturbation attacks for a certain period of time.

Kennelly noted that the pizza party was unauthorized, against jail policy, and that the sheriff’s office neither funded nor endorsed it.

The masturbation attacks date back to 2015 and continued up to at least 2017, court documents said.

The women alleged in their original complaint that the attacks were “specifically and systematically” directed towards women, and that their male peers were “not similarly targeted by detainees for indecent exposure, masturbation, assault, and battery.”

Read more: An inmate is suing a California prison where rain, bird droppings, maggots, and mice drop through holes in the roof

This Sept. 29, 2011 file photo shows inmates at the Cook County Jail in Chicago, the second largest county jail in the nation, waiting to be processed for release.
Associated Press/M. Spencer Green

The women’s lawsuit said that they suffered emotional distress and both emotional and physical trauma from the attacks.

Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart argued in a recent filing that the jail was not a hostile work environment because the alleged masturbation attacks were infrequent and limited to a small population of detainees. He also argued that the sheriff’s office maintains strict policies forbidding sexual harassment.

Though Kennelly’s ruling on Monday did not find Cook County at fault for the attacks, he argued there was enough evidence to allow the lawsuits to move forward.

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