Cook County sheriff has 3 challengers in primary

2014-03-15T00:00:00Z Cook County sheriff has 3 challengers in primaryThe Associated Press The Associated Press
March 15, 2014 12:00 am  • 

CHICAGO | Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, under the spotlight for his management of one of the nation's largest jails, is being challenged in Tuesday's primary election by three people who know his department well.

Dart's opponents — a sheriff's lieutenant and two men who previously worked in the sheriff's office — argue their extensive law enforcement experience make them more qualified than Dart, a former prosecutor and state legislator who was never a police officer or sheriff's deputy before taking office.

The sheriff has made waves nationally for cracking down on classified ad websites and reopening the investigation into the John Wayne Gacy murders.

However, he's recently been named in a lawsuit that alleges mistreatment of jail inmates, and the county just settled a lawsuit for $2.4 million that alleged Dart retaliated against deputies because they backed his opponent in the 2006 sheriff's race. Dart has denied both allegations.

Here's a look at what's at stake and who the players are in Tuesday's primary:

The job: The sheriff oversees an operation that runs the largest single-site county jail in the United States, provides security for the county's courthouses, patrols unincorporated areas and assists suburban police departments. The department has 6,800 employees and a $463 million annual budget. Dart has expanded the role, actively intervening in several impoverished Chicago suburbs that have experienced severe problems with rape investigations and other law enforcement problems.

The candidates:

— Dart, 51, is seeking his third term. He was first elected in 2006 and has since sued Craigslist website over adult content, re-examined the Gacy case decades after the slayings and halted foreclosure evictions.

— Bill Evans, is a current lieutenant in Dart's office. A former professional boxer, the 47-year-old joined the Sheriff's Department as a corrections officer in 1991. Since then, his duties have included supervising units that investigated gangs and narcotics. He also was a member of the Hostage Barricade Terrorist Team.

— Sylvester Baker, 60, has spent 22 years in law enforcement, most of that with the Sheriff's Department before he retired in 2003. He is now the assistant director of security for City Colleges of Chicago.

— Tadeusz "Ted" Palka, is a former deputy sheriff in Cook County. He says on his website that he has 30 years of service as a deputy sheriff and inspector.

The issues:

Dart's management of the jail is the key topic of the primary election. He has introduced innovative programs and raised concerns about such facilities becoming dumping grounds for the mentally ill. But just last month, a group of jail inmates filed a federal lawsuit against Dart and others, alleging "sadistic violence and brutality by guards." Dart has called the lawsuit "outrageous" and a "fictional account."

On Dart's watch, there have been at least two mistaken releases of inmates that have highlighted the jail's antiquated record-keeping system. Dart himself has complained about the problem, which he traces to insufficient funding.

His opponents have questioned some of Dart's efforts, such as seeking more authority to combat corruption in suburban communities, saying he's doing so at the expense of his core duties.

"We have a colossal mess in our county jail ... and yet this sheriff wants to take on even more responsibilities that have nothing to do with his office," Evans told WBEZ.

Baker points to Dart's background as part of the problem, saying that "you have a different philosophy when you have never actually been in law enforcement."

But Dart makes no apologies for the way he sees and does his job, telling Chicago's NPR station that he views his job as: "a mandate to get very involved with the criminal justice system, not just to sit here and say, 'Okay, here's your blanket, here's your bologna sandwich, there's your cell."

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