The parents of a juvenile delinquent allegedly beaten by guards in a Sangamon County youth jail are taking their case to court, but official records of the incident remain out of public reach.
On July 6, 16-year-old Dalton McDermott of Springfield was allegedly beaten by two guards while an inmate at the Sangamon Juvenile Center, 2201 South Dirksen Parkway, according to his parents, Barb Howell of Springfield and Jeff McDermott of Champaign. The detention center holds young prisoners in custody while the county court system decides what to do with them. Dalton was incarcerated at the juvenile center while awaiting sentencing for a spray-painting incident, Howell says.
Jeff McDermott says the beating apparently resulted from a misunderstanding about a commonly-used slang term in the Juvenile Center. Dalton apparently said he and his classmates in the detention center were going to “gun,” or make fun of, a teacher, and he was given the equivalent of a time-out. He then “mouthed off” to the guards who were to escort him to his cell, McDermott says.
“They grabbed him by the back of his neck while he was walking out of the classroom and slammed him into the wall,” McDermott says. “He was handcuffed, and they kneed him while he was on the ground. He had marks on both ankles and his throat.”
As a result of the beating, Dalton received a concussion, a fractured neck and internal bleeding, according to medical records and photographs provided by his parents. He is now in the state detention center in St. Charles, awaiting assignment to another state detention center.
Springfield attorney Dan Fultz, who represented Dalton in his criminal trial, says the youth was never violent toward him, but he did know of incidents in which Dalton had fought with other juvenile inmates and with guards.
Jeff McDermott says this isn’t the first time his son has had trouble with the guards at the Sangamon County Juvenile Center. When Dalton first arrived at the detention center, he was allegedly beaten inside his cell during a run-in with the same two guards, McDermott says.
“He had marks on him, but I figured he was just mouthy, and they might have just wrestled with him a bit,” McDermott says. “These are the two guys that, whenever a kid is acting up, they send these two guys to rough them up.”
It’s also not the first time Dalton has had trouble with the law. He had previously been sent to drug rehab after throwing milk at or toward a police officer, Barb Howell says, but he left rehab and was on the run for four months before turning himself in.
Barb Howell and Jeff McDermott say they would like the Sangamon Juvenile Center to fire the two guards allegedly involved in Dalton’s beating.
“I don’t care if my kid has a smart mouth or he does have a problem,” McDermott says. “[The guards] are supposed to be trained not to handle kids this way. For the well-being of the kids in there, you cannot have these guys pushing the envelope and hurting kids.”
The case also highlights a quirk in Illinois law that allows information on incidents like this to be withheld from the public. Sangamon County Court Services, which oversees the Sangamon County Juvenile Center, denied an Illinois Times request for evidence related to the alleged beating. As the agency is a part of the judiciary, Court Services claims exemption from the state’s Freedom of Information Act because of past court cases that seem to allow courts to avoid public review. Court Services also categorizes evidence of the incident as probation records, which would further exempt them from FOIA. Sangamon County Court Services Department director Michael Torchia declined to comment until Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan rules on the Freedom of Information Act review.
McDermott and Howell say they will seek restitution through a lawsuit. Springfield attorney Sara Mayo is representing the family in the civil suit, though Mayo said she could not speak to the facts in the case because she has yet to receive any evidence from the Sangamon County Juvenile Center.
Contact Patrick Yeagle at firstname.lastname@example.org.