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.