How did an inmate get a loaded gun into Cook County Jail?

The inmate had the weapon hidden in his pants for more than 90 minutes at the jail and, after he ditched it in a garbage can, nearly two days elapsed before the weapon was discovered


By Peter Nickeas
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — A crime suspect managed to smuggle a loaded handgun into Cook County Jail after Chicago police officers and then jail officers missed the weapon in at least two separate searches, according to an investigation into the origins of the gun.

The inmate who later pleaded guilty to possessing the tiny handgun, Quentin Jones, had the weapon hidden in his pants for more than 90 minutes at the jail and, after he ditched it in a garbage can, nearly two days elapsed before the weapon was discovered, according to records from a Cook County sheriff’s office investigation newly obtained by the Tribune through the Freedom of Information Act.

This photo shows the handgun found inside a garbage bin at Cook County Jail in August 2017. (Photo/Cook County sheriff's office)
This photo shows the handgun found inside a garbage bin at Cook County Jail in August 2017. (Photo/Cook County sheriff's office)

In response to the 2017 incident, officials altered their intake procedures to lessen the wait time before detainees are body-scanned. But sheriff’s officials said no corrections officers were disciplined for missing the weapon because they followed their protocols.

Exactly how the gun got into Jones’ hands remains somewhat mysterious. He told investigators that he happened to end up in a Chicago police lockup the previous day at the same time as his nephew, Travon Jones, following their two separate arrests, and that Travon gave him the gun. But Travon Jones denied knowing anything about the weapon, the records show.

What is known is that Quentin Jones was arrested on Aug. 12, 2017, in the Old Town neighborhood after Chicago police allegedly saw him beating a man and discovered he had an outstanding warrant. Travon Jones was arrested later that night a couple of blocks away after officers learned he had an outstanding gun warrant, according to public records.

Both were in Chicago police custody until the next morning, when they were moved to Cook County Jail. It was there that Quentin Jones dropped the gun into a garbage can just before he had to walk through a body scan machine that would presumably have detected the weapon. The records show that happened more than an hour and a half after he arrived and underwent a routine pat-down that failed to turn up the weapon; he spent that time in a holding area with other detainees.

After the security breach was discovered two days later, Chicago police and the Cook County sheriff’s office, which operates the jail, each opened investigations into the incident.

Quentin Jones, then 25, told county investigators that Travon Jones, then 22, gave him the Kel-Tec P32 — a compact pistol only about 5 inches long and praised on gun review sites as highly concealable — during the ride from the city lockup to county jail, according to records of the sheriff’s investigation. Quentin Jones said his nephew told him police hadn’t searched him — though officials said both men were searched at the city lockup — but in interviews with county investigators, Travon Jones denied he had the gun at all, the records show.

“(Travon) stated he didn’t know what CPD did and Quentin is his own problem,” according to the investigative file. “(He) stated the piece was (Quentin’s) ... (and) denies ever possessing the weapon.”

In fact, both men were searched at the Chicago police lockup, according to the sheriff’s investigation records; their outer clothes were removed and patted down, and they were directed to empty and turn out their pockets and pull up their pants to check for unusual bulges.

Similar searches are routinely conducted as part of jail intake as well, but investigators said Quentin Jones had the gun tucked inside his pants in his groin — an area corrections officers are trained to avoid during initial pat-downs. If an initial search raises suspicions of contraband, officers follow up with additional questions and a possible over-the-clothing pat-down of the groin area, but that apparently wasn’t done in Jones’ case.

Historically, more rigorous screenings, including body cavity searches, were the norm, but lawsuits and concerns over detainees’ privacy and human rights — along with the evolution of body scan technology — prompted the move to less-intrusive searches.

In Jones’ case, the sheriff’s Office of Professional Review recommended no discipline for the correctional officers who missed the gun during their search because they followed protocols and, according to the report, did a “very thorough search and followed their training closely.”

It was the impending post-pat-down body scan that apparently prompted Jones to dump the gun, which was found 41 hours later by a crew of inmates working with an officer to empty trash cans. Investigators used surveillance cameras from the intake area to determine where the gun came from, locating footage showing Jones waiting in line for the body scanner and then moving toward a trash can, the records state.

The county’s investigation began the moment the gun was recovered. The scene was secured, and officers notified bosses. Investigators interviewed officers, supervisors and detainees within a few hours and closed the investigation in about 14 months, according to records released by the agency.

Within a couple of weeks of the weapon’s discovery, county officials changed intake procedures at this location, said Joe Ryan, a spokesman for the Cook County sheriff’s office. Inmates are now sent through the body scanner before being searched, instead of after, and officers seek to complete their pat-down searches within 10 or 15 minutes of the initial scan, though that’s expedited if the initial scan reveals something suspicious.

The Chicago Police Department’s internal affairs investigation into the incident is ongoing, department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said.

The department’s general orders require officers to search subjects when they’re taken into custody and any time custody is transferred to other officers, whether they’re making an arrest or transporting arrestees to a station or to county jail. The procedure at police stations is to pat down detainees and, if that search reveals anything, a metal detecting wand is used to scan the arrestee.

Though the investigation continues, Guglielmi acknowledged the weapon was not located while it was in possession of an arrestee in police custody. It could have been missed during the arrest of either man, during booking in the district, when they were taken by a police wagon to jail, or Quentin could have obtained it some other way, Guglielmi said.

“Something was missed here. What it was, I don’t know, can’t say yet. But this is a very small gun. There’s a theory it could have been hidden in a body cavity — regardless, there are screening protocols to screen for these things and certainly something was missed,” Guglielmi said. “There’s no question. Just trying to figure definitively where it was.”

As for Quentin Jones, he was charged with possession of a weapon in a lockup the day after the gun was found, according sheriff’s office records. He pleaded guilty to unlawful use of a weapon, was sentenced to five years in prison and remains incarcerated, according to court and Illinois Department of Corrections records. The charges for which he was arrested in the first place were dropped.

His nephew was not charged in connection with the Kel-Tec P32, according to court records. But Travon Jones did receive a three-year sentence on a gun case connected to the warrant that prompted his arrest, his third gun-related conviction in Cook County, according to public records. He was paroled in March of this year, IDOC records show, but could not be reached for comment. An attorney who previously defended Travon Jones in court said he no longer represents him.

©2019 the Chicago Tribune

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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