Cook County jail guard charged with felony in inmate beating

- A Cook County Sheriff’s correctional officer has been charged with official misconduct — a felony — for allegedly punching a detainee seven times in a beating captured on video.

Miguel Ortiz, a 20-year veteran of the sheriff’s office, is also charged with misdemeanor battery in the incident. He would lose his pension if convicted of the felony. A bond hearing is scheduled for Thursday afternoon, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting.

On Jan. 17, 2014, an inmate was refusing to get into a cell in a medium-security wing of the Cook County Jail. As he stood with his arms crossed, Ortiz grabbed the man, and he fell backwards.

The video showed the man did nothing to antagonize Ortiz, who repeatedly punched the inmate in the head, sheriff’s investigators allege. Officers then put the man in handcuffs.

The video contradicted Ortiz’s statement that the detainee took a fighting stance before he was struck, investigators said, determining that Ortiz used excessive force.

The inmate was taken to the hospital at the Cook County Jail. His eye was swollen, but he wasn’t seriously injured, officials said.

The inmate told investigators that he refused to get into the cell because he didn’t think it was cleaned properly after a sick inmate was held in it. The next day, he signed a complaint seeking Ortiz’ firing for “beating me in the face and for banging my head against the ground.”

The Cook County Sheriff’s office moved to fire Ortiz on March 11, four months after investigators found he used excessive force. He’s on unpaid leave while his case is pending before the independent Merit Board, which decides discipline for sheriff’s employees.

On Wednesday, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office approved criminal charges against Ortiz, who turned himself in Thursday morning.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has released the videos of the Ortiz beating as part of an effort to boost transparency about what happens in the jail, according to the sheriff’s office.

In April, the office released six videos involving 13 officers. Six of them have been fired for misconduct, according to Ben Breit, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office. The sheriff sought to fire a seventh officer, but the Merit Board reduced his punishment to a 180-day suspension. Three more officers have been fired since then, Breit said.

In June, the office released four more videos showing inmates attacking correctional officers. Several of the attacks landed the officers in the hospital. From January 2015 to the end of June, investigations have led to criminal charges against more than 160 inmates for aggravated battery to a police officer.

Still, it’s unusual for a correctional officer to be fired — or face criminal charges. More than 1,100 excessive force complaints have been filed against jail employees over the past seven years. Nine percent of the complaints were sustained, and 4 percent of the complaints resulted in suspensions of a day to a month, the Better Government Association reported in May. A tiny fraction resulted in firings or charges.

The Ortiz beating was captured on two video cameras — which are among 2,500 fixed cameras in the jail, officials said. Correctional officers also wear body cameras and use handheld cameras to document tense situations, Breit said.

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