Second Person Dies from COVID-19 in Cook County Jail
Leslie Pieroni is the second person to die of COVID-19 while in the custody Cook County Jail. Mr. Pieroni was 51 years old and had been incarcerated in the jail since December 2018. We are heartbroken. Every death from COVID-19 that occurs in custody was a preventable death. This afternoon, National Nurses United will be hosting a prayer vigil and press conference outside Cook County Jail at 3:45pm. More information is available here: https://www.facebook.com/events/230754994956288/
Mr. Pieroni’s death comes on the heels of a federal court order in a lawsuit on behalf of incarcerated people over conditions inside the jail. Yesterday, U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Kennelly ordered Sheriff Tom Dart to implement policies ensuring sanitation, testing, social distancing at intake and the distribution of personal protective equipment. It is disgraceful that a federal judge would need to step-in to ensure that these policies be put in place, but it is necessary. CCBF’s volunteers and staff have spoken to more than 100 people with loved ones incarcerated in CCJ over the past two weeks. We have consistently been told that the Sheriff’s Office is not distributing adequate amounts of soap, hygiene products, or any form of PPE to incarcerated people.
While the conditions improvements are essential, we will continue to push for release of people from the jail. Social distancing remains impossible inside Cook County Jail where nearly 4,500 people are crammed like sardines in a can. It is precisely these conditions that led to Mr. Pieroni contracting COVID-19 and losing his life.
Our elected officials have failed to act with sufficient speed to prevent these deaths. Now, rather than trying to right their wrongs, many have taken to social media and television to make excuses for their lack of action. This is not the time for excuses or explanations, it is a time for bold action. With every passing moment, we come closer to losing more lives. While Jeffery Pendleton and Leslie Pieroni’s lives will be forever lost, our elected officials can still act to ensure more people in the jail do not suffer the same fate.
Yesterday, Jeffery Pendleton’s family sued Cook County over his death from COVID-19. The lawsuit takes issue with the way in which Mr. Pendleston was shackled by his hands and feet to a hospital bed while he lay dying. No one should be forced to die in such a horrible way. The lawsuit seeks an injunction against the “shackling policy” for all current and future detainees who are being treated for the virus at hospitals outside of the jail. We thank Mr. Pendleton’s family for taking this action to prevent the future suffering of others.
As the number of incarcerated people in Cook County Jail who have tested positive for COVID-19 quickly approaches 300, the jail has been identified by The New York Times as the “top hot spot” in the nation’s COVID-19 pandemic. The only way to prevent the number of people infected with COVD-19 and subsequent death toll from increasing is through decarceration.
We continue to call on Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, Chief Judge Timothy Evans, and State’s Attorney Kimberly Foxx to release people from Cook County Jail in the name of public health. Contact information and scripts can be found at chicagobond.org/call-in. We also call on Chicago Mayor Lori Lighfoot to stop opposing the release of people from Cook County Jail.
Art by Molly Cosetllo.