Black Lives Matter Protesters Join Class Action Lawsuit Challenging Illegal Detention of People in the Winnebago County Jail
On Sunday, August 2, 2020, five people incarcerated in the Winnebago County Jail filed a class action lawsuit alleging widespread and systemic violations of the Fourth Amendment rights of people accused of felony charges in Winnebago County. Adults with pending felony charges who are arrested on Friday evenings or on weekends are incarcerated in the Winnebago County Jail and routinely denied required probable cause hearing until the next regular business day. The lack of weekend bond hearings in Winnebago County results in extended detentions without any hearing before a judge and violates the Fourth Amendment. Four of the five named plaintiffs were arrested at demonstrations on Friday, Juy 31 and Saturday, August 1, organized by the May 30th Alliance demanding that charges against Black Lives Matter demonstrators arrested after the police murder of George Floyd are dropped.
Update: All four protesters were released later in the day on Monday, August 3, 2020 on I bonds, which do not require payment of money. Presumably, if they had had bond hearings on Saturday instead of Monday, they would have avoided an extra 48 hours in jail.
The Supreme Court has held that anyone held in police custody must be brought before a judge within 48 hours for a determination of probable cause to detain. By failing to hold any hearings for people facing felony charges on weekends, the 17th Judicial Circuit Court is flagrantly disregarding these people’s constitutional rights.
The Chicago Community Bond Fund (CCBF) contacted civil rights attorneys Adele Nicholas and Brad Thomson of the People’s Law Office to alert them of the civil rights violations after being contacted by protesters on Friday evening. CCBF has been working with the Winnebago County Bond Project to support Black Lives Matter protesters in Rockford, and the groups also worked together on a statewide holiday bailout last Christmas.
It is deeply disturbing that this flagrantly unconstitutional practice has been taking place in Illinois’ second largest county jail. People across Illinois have been demanding reforms to the pretrial justice system because of the impact of jail on our communities, yet Winnebago County is not even following existing laws. No one should be incarcerated for days before seeing a judge–especially while they are presumed innocent. A weekend in jail can have serious impacts on a person’s life and cause lasting negative effects. That is why there must be protections in place before someone is jailed while awaiting trial.
The lawsuit names Eugene G. Doherty, the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Winnebago County, as a Defendant and seeks an immediate injunction ordering Chief Judge Doherty to begin holding probable cause hearings for individuals arrested on the weekends. The suit also names Winnebago County Sheriff Gary Caruana for his role in turning a blind eye to the unconstitutional detentions at his facility.