The death of a former Lake County jail inmate paralyzed after an altercation with a corrections officer has been ruled a homicide by the Cook County medical examiner’s office, prompting the state’s attorney’s office to call for a special prosecutor to investigate the case, officials said Tuesday.
Eugene Gruber, 51, of Grayslake, died March 3 from pneumonia which resulted from paraplegia following spine injuries suffered in an altercation, according to his death certificate.
“In light of the medical examiner’s findings, the state’s attorney’s office is going to be requesting the appointment of a special prosecutor to review the investigation and whether or not there should be any charges,” said Christen Bishop, chief of special investigations for the Lake County office.
Before Gruber’s death, Lake County prosecutors determined there were no grounds for criminal charges against staff members involved. The legal definition of “homicide” is broadly defined as the killing of one human being by another but does not necessarily mean the act was criminal.
James Sotos, an attorney representing the sheriff’s office, said the homicide ruling does not suggest any wrongdoing by jail employees.
“There’s nothing in this report that in any way is intended to suggest any kind of wrongdoing, culpability or liability, and it would be a disservice to interpret it that way,” Sotos said. “The finding of homicide means only that the cause of death is attributable to someone else’s act. So beyond that, it doesn’t really add anything to what is already known.”
Gruber died at Chicago rehabilitation hospital about four months after being injured during a brief incarceration.
Jail staff members described Gruber as drunk and combative when he was brought in on Oct. 31 after a disorderly conduct and trespassing arrest. Guards pepper-sprayed Gruber and then used a neck-twisting “take-down” measure while struggling to change his clothes, according to the state's attorney's report.
Over the next 24 hours, Gruber complained that he couldn't move his legs and was carried around, sometimes with his legs dragging, as guards tried to take his mug shot. He was not taken to the hospital until the next day, when his condition deteriorated.
Once at Vista Medical Center East, doctors determined Gruber suffered paralysis from a broken neck and performed two surgeries, records show. He was undergoing rehabilitation and being weaned off a ventilator before he died, his family’s lawyer has said.
Gruber's sister, Eileen Siwula, has filed a federal lawsuit against numerous jail officials and employees of Correct Care Solutions, the jail's health care provider. A Correct Care nurse was fired in part for reportedly failing to assess Gruber properly.
Correctional officers did not initially document the physical altercation with Gruber in their required daily reports, according to the state’s attorney’s report.
“You look at the numbers of officers who were there and they can’t control one drunk?” said Charles Gruber, Eugene’s cousin, who is also a former police chief. The homicide ruling came as no surprise, he said.
Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran has said that he is reviewing the incident to see whether it was handled in accordance with department policies.
Gruber's death is the second tied to the jail since January, when inmate Lyvita Gomes, 52, who had shown signs of mental illness, died after a 15-day hunger strike.
Curran announced last Friday that he intended to spend a week in jail as a “show of faith” in his corrections personnel. But on Monday, he canceled the plan at his lawyer’s request, Sotos said.