Guard Helped 6 Inmates Escape

The Chicago Police Department said Tuesday its officers received a tip about an escape planned from the Cook County Jail hours before six inmates bolted this weekend, and police gave the information to county authorities.

Meanwhile, a jail guard has told investigators he aided in the escape to influence the upcoming sheriff's election by embarrassing Cook County Sheriff Michael Sheahan, a law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

The guard originally said he was overpowered by an inmate but has since changed his story, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. The alleged admission was first reported by the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times.

Richard Remus, who is running for the Democratic nomination for sheriff, said he doubts reports that the guard was trying to help his campaign.

"An officer is going to sacrifice his life or family for political gain for somebody else? It's beyond my understanding of human nature - I can't see it," Remus said. "This sounds like Cook County politics at its finest."

Remus - who is running against Tom Dart, Sheahan's chief of staff, and another candidate - said the guard has not worked on his campaign and is not a friend. Remus was once his supervisor at the jail.

Authorities caught the last of the inmates Monday.

Spokespeople for the sheriff's office - which controls the jail - did not return calls for comment Tuesday.

No charges had been filed in the jailbreak as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the Cook County state's attorney's office.

Police spokeswoman Monique Bond said police gave the information about the escape to Cook County authorities around 3:30 p.m. on Saturday. The six inmates broke out of the jail around midnight.

The tip developed when police arrived at a hospital Saturday afternoon where a battery report had been filed regarding an incident earlier in the day, Bond said.

Someone involved in that case indicated to police he or she "had knowledge... of what was going to occur," later at the jail, she said.

At the time, the officers did not know whether the information was legitimate, but followed proper procedure for reporting it, Bond said.

The jailbreak is the third at the Cook County Jail in the past 10 months. No inmates had escaped from the jail in the previous 10 years.

A spokeswoman for Sheahan on Monday would not confirm that the guard admitted to helping orchestrate the plot.

"If these statements prove to be true and if in fact public safety was compromised for political purposes, not only is it an all-time low in the Cook County political arena, it is a crime," spokeswoman Sally Daly said.

In his initial account, the guard - a former Marine who worked in the sheriff's department for 11 years - said he went into the shower area and removed an inmate's handcuffs and leg irons to let him shower. According to the guard, the inmate threw hot soapy water on him and held him at bay with a makeshift knife.

The inmate then handcuffed the guard, put on his uniform and opened the electronic jail cell doors to let out six other inmates, according to the guard's original statements.

Sheriff Michael Sheahan said Monday that only the one guard was on duty in the shower area instead of the usual three.

With 2,700 correctional officers and about 10,000 inmates, the ratio of guards to inmates at the jail is lower than in New York, which in 2005 employed more than 9,400 correctional officers to guard more than 13,500 inmates. Los Angeles gets by with far fewer correctional officers: fewer than 1,700 guard more than 18,400 inmates.

A report two months ago concluded that the Cook County Jail is understaffed by 700 guards.

This is at least the second time in recent months that the question of staff complicity has been raised. During the summer, an inmate donned a guard's uniform, walked out of jail and allegedly went on a bank-robbing spree. He later turned himself in to authorities in Ohio, saying he had escaped with the help of a guard he had bribed. The sheriff's department is investigating that claim, officials said.

Last month, a jail guard was convicted of attempting to smuggle a handgun into the jail in 2003.