Worker Complains About Safety and Due Process in Juvenile Detention Center
Veteran supervisor in charge (SIC) Fitzgerald Mullins had a singular focus when he saw what appeared to be a gun make its way through the x-ray line scan at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC): find it and secure it. However, in the aftermath of searching for the alleged firearm, instead of receiving an accommodation from his superiors, he instead has been punished.
Mullins shared his personal account of what transpired on the morning of Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017 at the JTDC, 1100 S. Hamilton Ave., with the Defender, including what actions have taken place since that time. He has worked for the JTDC for more than 25 years. His current role is that of supervisor-in-charge (SIC).
Mullins recalled on the morning of the day in question while in route to host a training session, he was stopped by a fellow security officer, John Doyle, a three-year security specialist at the JTDC, who informed him of an incident that had recently taken place. He said Doyle showed him two pictures taken by the x-ray line scan of what appeared to be a gun in the personal bag of a female JTDC SIC in one photo and another photo of the same bag without the alleged gun. He said Doyle asked the SIC to return to verify if she indeed had a gun but she refused and continued onward into the supervisor’s office. The JTDC SIC in question was identified as Lynn West, according to a copy of an incident report filed by the Cook County Sheriff’s Office under case report SO17-096565 obtained by the Defender.
“When they did contact her again on the phone, they sent back a security officer to tell her she needed to come back with her bags; she gave them a very hard time but subsequently she did,” said Mullins. “When she ran her bag through the subsequent time, the firearm was not in there. So at that time I immediately took a picture of both screens of the line scans that showed the picture.”
At this point, Mullins sought further instructions and called his administrator-on-duty who happened to be the Deputy Executive Director of the JTDC, Millicent McCoy. After sharing the photos he had of the x-ray line scan, he said she instructed him to immediately proceed with a thorough search of West’s bag and locker.
After conducting a search of West’s locker and bags and not finding anything, Mullins then reported the incident to the Cook County Sheriff’s Office several hours after the initial search for the gun was concluded. This is one of the major points of contention between Mullins and the JTDC. The JTDC views disclosing the alleged missing gun to the Cook County Sheriff’s Office as a misstep. Mullins said he believes he took the right course of action because the alleged gun had still not been found.
“I feel like I did absolutely the right thing to keep the facility safe and to keep the workers, to keep the kids safe, it’s absolutely the right thing to make sure everyone is searched regardless of what their rank is when they come into the facility,” said Mullins.
In the weeks to follow, Mullins’ actions would be reviewed by the JTDC’s leadership including JTDC Superintendent Leonard Dixon and JTDC Deputy Superintendent Diane McGhee, among others. According to the report obtained by the Defender of a pre-disciplinary meeting held at the JTDC on Oct 23, Mullins sustained administrative charges of:
JTDC Policy #2.03.30 – General Work Rules – – the policy requires all employees to consistently follow all the rules, guidelines established by the JTDC
Superintendent Bulletin DIXON- 2015-6 – “Slander/Rumors” – this is a policy which encourages employees to hold themselves to a high standard of professionalism and “not tolerate untruthfulness, rumors, etc.”
JTDC Policy #2.03.27 – Code of Ethics – Professional Conduct and Conflicts of Interest
The penalty for these charges was that Mullins would be suspended without pay on Nov. 3. The report was signed and dated by Dixon, McGhee, Mullins, and special assistant to the superintendent, Bruce Burger, who is listed as a personnel hearing officer below his signature. The JTDC states in the “Management #1” section of the report “Mullins failed to clarify the situation to reporting staff and reported to the management of the Cook County Sheriff that a dangerous contraband was brought into the JTDC”. In the conclusion section of the report, the alleged gun was listed as “a sunglass case.”
A part of Mullins’ decision to reach out to the Cook County Sheriff’s Office stems from how close the county sheriffs are to the staff at the JTDC both in proximity and familiarity with one another. The two agencies work in tandem to maintain a level of stability and security within the facility, according to Mullins.
“[Sheriffs] are the first line of security, they are the ones who search all the individuals who come upstairs as well as throughout the facility and then we have a second line of defense where we have our staff and we run everything through the line scan as well,” said Mullins. “On a regular basis we are working with them whether it is to keep the facility safe or dialoguing on how we can improve security in the facility.”
Mullins told the Defender that not only were the charges against him unfair but the hearing itself. In response to his suspension, Mullins sought legal retribution by hiring Ivan M. Rittenberg of Rittenberg, Buffen, Gulbrandsen, Robinson & Saks, Ltd. to be his attorney and filed an official complaint. Mullins was not the only person penalized in connection to the alleged gun report. Doyle was suspended 20 days without pay for essentially the same charge as Mullins. He said he too will file a complaint with the circuit court with Rittenberg as his attorney. Additionally,he filed a grievance with his union, Teamsters 700.
“I was denied my due process. Bruce Burger, who was the hearing officer, he would not allow for my attorney to exercise my due process rights and be involved with the hearing although it could possibly lead to a determination,” said Mullins.
Doyle called his suspension and subsequent hearing “unjust.” He said the situation caused a great deal of stress on him as well as on his family as he is a husband and father of four young children.
“Between me stressing at home and naturally my wife is going to be stressing because her husband is out of work unjustly; it wasn’t right at all,” said Doyle.
One of the parties named in Mullins’ case along with Dixon, McGhee, and Burger was the Honorable Timothy C. Evans, Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County. Evans is listed on the formal complaint not because he was directly or indirectly involved with the Mullins incident but because as he appointed Leonard Dixon as superintendent of the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC), the buck ultimately stops at him. Dixon formerly served as the executive director for the Wayne County Juvenile Detention Facility, Department of Children and Family Services in Detroit. Dixon began his tenure at JTDC in Feb. 2015.
The office of chief judge was not always responsible for the management of the JTDC. On Jan. 1, 2008, the Illinois General Assembly transferred control of the JTDC from a transitional administrator, Earl Dunlap, to Evans, giving him the power to appoint a superintendent. Prior to Dunlap’s oversight, the JTDC was under fire for its conditions to the extent that the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois (ACLU) filed a federal lawsuit.
The Defender reached out to speak with Chief Judge Evans but was unsuccessful due to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 63 which states:
“A judge should abstain from public comment about a pending or impending proceeding in any court, and should require similar abstention on the part of court personnel subject to the judge’s direction and control.”
Through the complaint Rittenberg is not just advocating for his client, Mullins, but in fact, he’s calling for systemic reform for all employees of the JTDC to receive impartial disciplinary hearings. He explained Mullins’ only option was to hire a private attorney because his position is above the rank meaning he does not have a union option and because the Chief Judge does not have an appeals process.
“The Chief Judge or the County [should] be forced to set-up an independent agency to hear disciplinary matters and to render a judgement with a transcript, attorneys present, and a cross examination so you can’t be disciplined for a day or 20 days on a humbug, that there has to be justice,” said Rittenberg. “It should not be the deputy chief who is appointed by Dixon who is having the hearings but it should be somebody who is a qualified retired judge or lawyer who is not on the payroll there to give an independent opinion.”
John Wicks, Sr., a former interim director of security/security specialist at the JTDC, who has lent his support to Mullins, explained what reforms he thinks should be on the horizon for the center in the weeks to come, namely more public accountability.
“There needs to be a formal public hearing done by Cook County Board, the Office of the Chief Judge, into the actions of Superintendent Dixon and his administration as it relates to the Cook County juvenile detention center,” said Wicks. “Let there be an evaluation by the Board of the Office of the Chief Judge for the employees and let them rate the superintendent and let that be made public as well as a public hearing as it relates to the morale in the building, financial spending, and I believe that will bring some light and let the Chief Judge be made aware of certain activities within the detention center.”