Suit: Cleared Defendants Continue To Be Detained At Cook County Jail

(CBS) – More than 60,000 men say they were wronged by the system — put in Cook County Jail, then found not guilty, only to be put back in a cell.

CBS 2’s Dorothy Tucker reports.

A burglary charge sent Brian Otero to cook county jail in 2009. But in 2011 he was found not guilty by a jury.

Instead of being released, Otero went back to jail. He was given a jail uniform and placed back in his cell.

He says he remained in the cell for nine hours waiting for his papers to be processed. That was enough time to be assaulted by other inmates jealous he was getting out.

“I couldn’t do nothing. I wasn’t going to jeopardize the freedom I had just obtained,” Otero says.

His name is on a list of 60,000 men who have been found not guilty by a judge or jury, or had their charges dismissed or dropped but who still waited up 30 hours in the jail before being released.

“We don’t put free men in jail. The fact this is going on and has been going on for a long time is troubling,” says Jacie Zolna, who is representing Otero and the others in a class-action lawsuit.

It accuses the county of violating the men’s constitutional rights. It also seeks to force the county to treat the men like they do the women who are  released almost immediately.

Cook County Sheriff’s officials say there are hundreds of women, compared to nearly 8,000 male inmates.

The women are allowed to wait in a processing center, but the men go back to jail.

“We don’t have any place else,” says Cara Smith, a top aide to Sheriff Tom Dart.

The lawsuit seeks $10,000 for each man who’s been back to jail after being cleared. That would be more than $600 million taxpayers would have to pay.

The trial starts in March.

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