CHICAGO -- At five-foot nothing, Veronica McNeary doesn’t look the part of troublemaker. Just talking about what happened to her last month at the Cook County jail is tough. It still makes her cry.
WGN Investigates obtained a copy of the security video at the jail. It shows McNeary proceeding through the public security line to bail out her son. While going through, she says a deputy demanded she remove a see-through headpiece she wears after having two biopsies. According to McNeary the deputy said, “I don’t give a s**t. I said take it off.”
Then she says the sheriff’s officer went one step further and demanded she take her sweatshirt off. Underneath, McNeary was wearing a thin tank top t-shirt she considers her underwear.
“And ‘I said take my shirt off?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ And I said, ‘Do you have a boss? I need to talk to someone.’ He said, ‘No. If you want to go bail your son out you need to remove that headpiece and remove your shirt now.’”
McNeary says she was humiliated because everyone could see her. There were male deputies present and other people going through the security line. Still, she says she never considered refusing a direct order from the deputy. McNeary says, “I am one who says ‘Yes sir,’ ‘Yes ma'am’ 90% of the time in my life. I address everybody in that manner because I was raised like that. Even though he was yelling and hollering at me, I kept saying ‘Yes sir, yes sir,’ even when I was holding back the tears I was saying ‘Yes sir, yes sir.’”
In her mind, there was an even more compelling reason for her to comply. She was desperate to get her child back.
And then it went from humiliation, she says, to fear.
When McNeary asked to speak with the deputy’s boss, it made him angry. The security tape shows him take her driver’s license and he appears to take a picture on his cell phone. Two other deputies are watching.
She asked, “Does he have the right to take my ID and he said if he asked for it you have to give it to him. I said this is not right. So as I put my things back on I’m like holding back tears now because it’s like, oh God, I’m standing in this line and all these people are watching me go through this and I didn’t do anything wrong. So when I leave I told the guy in the chair, ‘Nobody helped me,’ and he just kind of looked at me."
As soon as McNeary walked out she asked how to file a complaint. It has to be signed, notarized, and mailed in. She followed through, and then she called an attorney.
Richard Manno with Christian & Manno said he was shocked like anyone else would be. He added, “She’s under the stress of having to get her son bonded out. Now this adds insult to injury. And to make it even more stressful for her is she’s intimidated by this particular officer when he asked for her ID and took out his personal cell phone and took a photo of her driver’s license. How scary is that?”
The Cook County Sheriff’s office settled a strip-search case for $55 million dollars based on claims that happened long before Sheriff Tom Dart took over. The complaints involved women heading to jail. But, McNeary was standing in a security line like people do every day.
Manno suggest there are other ways to handle situations like this. “Take them into a separate room if a garment is to be removed if you suspect something. But in this particular situation, this was unconscionable behavior and a clear diversion of what proper policy should be through the Cook County Sheriff.”
Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia, the executive director of the jail says this is not an image they want either. When WGN Investigates asked what should have been done, Jones Tapia said, “That sweater was a pull-over and instead of it being deemed an outer garment it could have been deemed as her shirt and not been taken off.”
McNeary said she was intimidated when the officer took a picture of her ID. Jones Tapia said, “That is part of the reason for the launching of the investigation.” WGN Investigates asked if it is standard procedure to take a picture of somebody’s ID and according to Jones Tapia, it is not.
Call it a coincidence, but whether it was McNeary’s complaint or WGN’s call to the sheriff, its investigation began the very day we first spoke with them. Jones Tapia says, “To say the least, we want to make sure our interactions with the public are always rooted in professionalism. And reading the complaint and seeing the video, we understand that may not have been the case. So that’s why we opened an investigation as quickly as we were alerted to this situation.”
For now, the deputy is re-assigned pending the outcome of the internal investigation. That's what attorney Manno says he wants. "We hope somebody would put their eyes on it, somebody in a position of authority, and give a reaction to what occurred, an explanation to what occurred and at a bare minimum discipline who the Cook County Sheriff is who behaved in this manner.”
A couple years ago, McNeary became an ordained minister. She’s working to empower other women. Now she is speaking up for herself to make sure this doesn’t happen to others. McNeary says, “I’m very angry. I’m humiliated and I’m very upset.”
McNeary is considering suing the Cook County Sheriff’s Department. The sheriff’s office has initiated customer service training in addition to the training the staff already receives. There were other deputies in the room and the sheriff’s investigation will look into why they did not feel the need to intervene.