CROWN POINT | A federal grand jury and the FBI have joined an investigation of whether Lake County Jail corrections officers violated the civil rights of three inmates who alleged they were beaten last year.
Meanwhile, the Lake County Sheriff said Wednesday an internal investigation revealed that surveillance video pertaining to at least one of the alleged beatings was "erased, tampered with or concealed."
"Clearly part of their (federal agents') investigation will look into the possibility of conspiracy and obstruction of justice," Sheriff Rogelio "Roy" Dominguez said.
A team of a dozen FBI agents collected jail records Wednesday, Dominguez confirmed. Dominguez said he invited the federal help to crack "a code of silence" among what he called a small group of the jail's staff of more than 170 corrections officers.
Wendy Osborne, a spokeswoman for the FBI, and Mary Hatton, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Hammond, confirmed the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice have opened a civil rights investigation into the matter.
The grand jury subpoenaed video tapes and digitally-stored data from the jail's surveillance system, recorded police radio or telephone conversations, authorities said.
The sheriff said the cases involve inmates Paul Todd, 52, of Cedar Lake who reportedly suffered head injuries Oct. 30; Leonel Erazo, 31, of East Chicago, who suffered a broken nose Nov. 29; and Tommy Dean Ford, 42, of Gary, who was briefly hospitalized for multiple injuries following a Dec. 26 incident.
Merrillville attorney Trent McCain, who represents Todd and Erazo, said Wednesday the FBI had interviewed Todd in February.
"We are delighted the grand jury has initiated their investigation and are confident the truth will come out," McCain said.
The sheriff previously identified six correctional officers involved in the Ford incident as William Brown, Pedro Elizondo, David Negrete, Aaron Roberts, Jeff Stillwell and Jonathon Stillwell.
Mike Higgins, a spokesman for the sheriff, said Wednesday Elizondo and Roberts also have been identified as participating in prior incidents. The sheriff's office hasn't made public the names of a number of corrections officers allegedly involved in other alleged beatings.
None of the officers have been charged with crimes and remain employees of the jail.
The sheriff said the federal investigation is independent of a continuing state grand jury probe into the beatings.