People’s Law Office Sues Sheriff Tom Dart for Violating the First Amendment

March 6, 2024

Chicago, IL — Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart illegally banned students Ethan Ostrow and Harley Pomper from Cook County Jail in retaliation for speaking out. Ostrow and Pomper are students at University of Chicago who facilitated creative writing workshops at the jail for two years. In May 2023, they published an Op-Ed arguing that Cook County Jail’s paper ban infringes on intellectual freedom.

After Ostrow and Pomper published the opinion piece, their security clearance was denied, preventing them from participating in the creative writing program the following school year. Sheriff Dart was the person ultimately responsible for the decision to have their clearance denied, according to the lawsuit.

This morning, Ostrow and Pomper sued Sheriff Dart for violating their First Amendment rights.

“We, and everyone who works or lives in the jail, have a right to speak without fear of retaliation,” said Ethan Ostrow. “We engaged in public dialogue about a policy of great public concern, impacting the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people. But this public debate breaks down when powerful people like Sheriff Dart retaliate against critics. Retaliation is an attempt to scare people into silence.”

“The First Amendment forbids government officials from punishing people for their speech,” said Attorney Brad Thomson of the People’s Law Office. “Sheriff Dart had my clients banned from volunteering at the jail simply because he disagreed with their viewpoint. Sheriff Dart’s actions are a flagrant violation of the Constitution, raising serious concerns about whether he is respecting the Constitutional rights of the people he is incarcerating at Cook County Jail.”

“Sheriff Dart banned us because we spoke out,” said Harley Pomper. “But this retaliation pales in comparison to the extremely common, far more severe retaliation against people in jail. Right now, Sheriff Dart is responsible for jailing 4,681 Chicagoans. The health and wellbeing of the people incarcerated by Sheriff Dart is part of the health and wellbeing of our city. The people inside, and people who provide services, need to be able to demand livable conditions, medical care, and, yes, access to paper without fear of retaliation.”

The complaint is available here and the original op-ed written by Ostrow and Pomper is available here.

People’s Law Office is a civil rights law firm based in Chicago that has been defending their clients’ Constitutional rights and fighting against police violence, wrongful convictions, and governmental abuses of power since 1969. 

People’s Law Office Files Wrongful Conviction Lawsuit in Minnesota on Behalf of Thomas Rhodes

On the one-year anniversary of his release from prison, Thomas Rhodes filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in Minneapolis, Minnesota, seeking accountability and compensation for the nearly 25 years he spent wrongfully imprisoned for his wife’s tragic accidental death in 1996.

Rhodes, represented by the People’s Law Office in Chicago, and the Law Office of Tim Phillips in Minneapolis, has brought this suit alleging that the defendants fabricated evidence and conspired to have him wrongfully convicted of murder.

The defendants in this lawsuit include former Ramsey County, Minnesota Medical Examiner Michael McGee, who has faced scrutiny for his questionable conduct in several wrongful convictions.

Mr. Rhodes was convicted of first-degree and second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison in 1998, based on fabricated evidence and testimony manufactured by the defendants in the case. He was released from prison nearly 25 years later, on January 13, 2023, through the legal assistance of the Great North Innocence Project.

The complaint alleges that the defendants conspired to falsely implicate Mr. Rhodes in his wife’s accidental drowning death at a lake in Kandiyohi County, Minnesota. It details how McGee and a Patrol Captain for the Hennepin County, Minnesota Sheriff fabricated unsupported conclusions in reports and gave false testimony stating the death was a premeditated homicide, despite all scientific evidence to the contrary. Additionally, the complaint alleges that Kandiyohi County Attorney Boyd Beccue also secretly met with McGee to help manufacture a case against Mr. Rhodes.

Ten separate forensic pathologists reviewed the medical evidence and disagreed with McGee’s finding that the death was a homicide, yet Mr. Rhodes was convicted and sentenced to life in prison based on the fabricated evidence. He steadfastly maintained his innocence while imprisoned until January 2023, when his convictions were finally vacated after an investigation by the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office’s Conviction Review Unit determined the evidence was unreliable.

“Thomas Rhodes is an innocent man who lost nearly 25 years of his life due to these defendants conspiring to falsely implicate him for the accidental death of his wife,” said attorney Brad Thomson of the People’s Law Office in Chicago. “Over two decades in prison caused unfathomable harm and injustice. With this lawsuit, we intend to bring the defendants’ egregious misconduct to light and seek the measure of justice still owed to Mr. Rhodes.”

Mr. Rhodes has spent the past year adjusting to life outside of prison, stating, “I have gained my freedom. I now look forward to justice.”

The federal civil rights lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Mr. Rhodes is represented by People’s Law Office attorneys Brad Thomson, Ben Elson and Flint Taylor, with the assistance of People’s Law Office Fellow Tayleece Paul, and attorney Tim Phillips of the Law Office of Tim Phillips in Minneapolis.

A copy of the complaint is available here: Rhodes Complaint