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Female inmate back in custody after escape from hospital

Friday, February 17, 2006

Cook County Sheriff Michael Sheahan personally helped recapture a female prisoner who got away while being treated at a local hospital Friday. It has been a bad week for Sheahan and his department.

Beleaguered Cook County Sheriff Michael Sheahan was back Friday afternoon in what recently has been one of his least favorite places, in front of the cameras explaining how another suspect in his department's custody got away.

"As far as we're concerned, it was gross negligence on his part. You can never, as I said the other day, ever trust a prisoner, and especially someone on drugs," said Sheahan.

Friday morning's escape happened at Loretto Hospital on the West Side, where 40-year-old accused drug possessor Lawanda Warren had been admitted for chest pains. Warren was supposedly being guarded by an armed sheriff's deputy sitting outside her room. He went to use a phone and Warren allegedly undid her shackles, found some clothing and walked away.

Loretto's administrator says her staff stays out of matters involving patients and law enforcement:

"We make sure that they're in a safe environment and that we are meeting their health care needs," said Camille Lilly, Loretto Hospital administrator.

The escapee turned herself in two and half hours later at her mother's house on the West Side, where sheriff Sheahan joined other officers for the recapture.

"I'm not the type to sit around and wait for something to happen," Sheahan said.

Warren's walk-away follows the breakout by six inmates last weekend that led to criminal charges against correctional officer Darin Gater, who is accused of aiding the escape. The day before, 35-year-old armed robbery suspect Warren Mathis got away in a laundry truck causing several guards to be suspended, and on February 1, other guards were disciplined after a handgun was smuggled onto a maximum security cellblock.

The lame-duck sheriff defended his department's morale and training programs and blamed the rash of escapes and other problems on individual officers, who are not doing their jobs.

"He made a mistake," said Sheahan.

Already, there is political fallout to this latest escape. The Republican candidate for sheriff, Peter Garza, said in a statement, "the escape shows the depth of mismanagement in Sheahan's administration."

Sheahan is not running for re-election, but his chief of staff, Tom Dart, is. Dart so far has had no reaction to what happened Friday.

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