A federal lawsuit has accused Cook County sheriff deputies of violating thousands of detainees’ rights by videotaping them while they used the bathrooms in their holding cells.
According to attorney Thomas Zimmerman, the cameras are hidden in holding cells so that deputies can, “secretly monitor in real time” detainees.
“There is no security interest in the sheriff monitoring them for weapons or other contraband, and certainly there’s no security interest in monitoring them while they use the toilet,” Zimmerman said. “The law is very clear across the country that a person retains a right of privacy to their body even when they’re in the custody of the sheriff.”
Michelle Urrutia, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said she saw an unmarked camera behind tinted brown glass inside her courthouse cell and thought a steel partition would block the camera view.
“You can’t see what the camera is actually pointed to,” she explained.
However, Urrutia talked to a sheriff’s office employee at a barbecue a few weeks later and found out what was visible.
“He’s like, ‘You know we can see everything in the holding cell . . . including you guys using the washroom?’ ” Urrutia said. “When I found out, I was very embarrassed. I felt ashamed, humiliated. I felt violated.”
Elizabether Alicea, another plaintiff in the lawsuit, said that she had to sit in a holding cell for several hours after she got arrested for shoplifting. She said she used the toilet several times and never imagined that she was being recorded. She added that she felt very embarrassed and humiliated.
“We vehemently deny the allegations that there are hidden or secret cameras focused on detainees’ private parts or the toilet areas of holding cells,” Dart’s policy director Cara Smith said. “Fixed cameras are present in the holding cells in courthouses as a critical tool to ensure the safety of staff, the safety of detainees and transparency of our operations.”
The lawsuit claims the deputies have violated the detainees’ Fourth Amendment rights and is seeking an unspecified amount of damages.