news 6 days ago

Jail guard wins $20,500 settlement in gender discrimination suit

The Times, Munster, Ind. — Marc Chase The Times, Munster, Ind.

Feb. 14-- Feb. 14--{{featured_button_text}}

CROWN POINT -- Lake County is paying $20,500 to settle a discrimination complaint by a Lake County Jail corrections officer.

A U.S. District Court judge dismissed Kathleen Escobedo's civil rights suit this week at the request of attorneys for both her and Lake County government following an out-of-court settlement.

"This is a vindication for her," Christopher Cooper, who represents Escobedo and other members of the Indiana Fraternal Order of Police, said Wednesday afternoon.

Escobedo claimed former Sheriff John Buncich disciplined her more severely than two male county jail corrections officers after all three were blamed for the escape of an inmate four years ago.

Richard N. Campos, 26, of East Chicago, was one of six inmates assigned to laundry duty the morning of April 30, 2016.

Corrections officers transported Campos to an unsecured laundry facility across the street from the jail about 7:30 a.m. that Saturday. About five hours later they discovered Campos was missing.

Sheriff's investigators learned by reviewing Campos' phone records that he had called his girlfriend, Elysia M. Jeronimo, of Hammond, and told her to drive to the laundry facility and wait outside for him to walk away.

Authorities tracked the couple through a cellphone they purchased at River Oaks Center and arrested Jeronimo and Campos four days later near San Antonio, Texas.

Buncich concluded Escobedo and her male counterparts, Ramon Hines and Alfonso Rodriguez, were to blame.

Hines and Rodriguez were assigned to guard Campos and five others who were working in the jail's unsecured laundry room, but failed to see Campos walk away, the sheriff alleged.

An attorney for the sheriff said in 2016 Escobedo incorrectly classified Campos as being a low enough security risk to deserve being a trusty, an inmate given the freedom to work outside the jail's locked doors.

The sheriff said she erroneously made her decision based on Campos' booking card, but failed to consult a more detailed computer database, which stated Campos was wanted by multiple court on a variety of violations.

Escobedo filed suit in federal court in 2018, claiming she was a victim of gender discrimination.

Cooper said the county was forced to rescind the allegations made against Escobedo by the sheriff.

County Attorney Matthew Fech said Wednesday county officials denied her claim and chose to resolve the suit without going through the expense of a jury trial.

"Our attorneys worked very hard on the case and ultimately decided this resolution was in the best interests of the taxpayers of Lake County," Fech said.

Campos pleaded guilty to escape and was sentenced to 50 months in prison. His girlfriend pleaded guilty to assisting a criminal and released her on probation after she served three months in jail.

A federal grand jury indicted Buncich in 2016 on an unrelated charge of accepting bribes from towing firms doing business with the sheriff's office. A jury convicted him of public corruption the following year.

Buncich, 74, is being held in a federal prison in Springfield, Missouri and isn't scheduled for release until 2031.

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