Five years ago, the seemingly unimaginable happened at the Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital in Geneva.
An inmate at the Kane County Jail, hospitalized after surgery, disarms the prison officer guarding him and takes a nurse hostage. He held her at gunpoint in a small room for several hours, raped and tortured her, before the RRT stormed her and shot him dead.
In the years that followed, the mayor’s office enacted a “series” of changes intended to right the wrongs that made the horrific crime possible that day.
First, the mayor’s office no longer only sends one guard to monitor an inmate in the hospital, Sheriff Ron Hein told us recently.
“Detainees should always be escorted and monitored in the hospital by at least two corrections officers,” said Hein, who was not a sheriff in 2017.
His office also requires “strict adherence” to a policy requiring hospital detainees to remain handcuffed at all times, unless medical personnel request their removal.
This was not the case on May 13, 2017, when inmate Tywin Salters was hospitalized after surgery to remove parts from a plastic sandal he had swallowed in prison.
When Salters requested that he not be restricted to using the bathroom, the guard agreed to do so. Then 21-year-old Salts was allowed to use the bathroom alone and did not re-shackle when he returned. A nurse noticed, and asked the guard why, but got no response, according to a federal lawsuit later filed against the county, Delnor, a prison warden and hospital security contractor.
According to Hein, Salters spent an “abnormal” time in the bathroom lonely and unchained. He used that time to make a shank – a homemade knife – that was later used to threaten the officer before taking his gun.
Salters’ ability to disarm the guard led to further changes in the mayor’s office.
Hein said that prison guards have historically received no “structured” self-defense or tactical training, other than qualified firearms testing once a year. So in 2019, he created a sheriff’s tactical training unit to teach all members of his juror team—prison guards included—tactical skills and self-defense.
He also outfitted corrections officers in 2019 with stun guns.
These changes, he said, along with other changes at the prison, have reduced incidents of force use and staff injuries.
Hein said the mayor’s office meets regularly with hospital administrators and security personnel to discuss security issues.
“We have developed a great relationship with security and management at Delnor,” he said.
Christopher King, Northwestern Medicine’s chief media relations officer, said the 2017 attack “reminds us of the significant consequences of workplace violence.”
He said Northwestern has implemented several system-wide initiatives, including installing wireless patient monitoring cameras with two-way communication capability to handle potentially disabled patients.
The hospital system has annual meetings with staff from prisons, detention centers and prisons, King said, and has added workers who specialize in curbing disruptive behavior.
“Our employees have shown remarkable resilience and we will constantly review and update our policies and procedures to ensure that an event like the one at Delnor does not happen again,” King said.
The federal lawsuit filed by four nurses claimed that negligence by the county and the prison guard led to the assault that day. The lawsuit alleged that Salters – who they said was suicidal and desperate – was guarded by only one officer at a time, and nurses saw the guards using their personal cell phones and laptops while sitting on a chair and sofa in his hospital room.
The lawsuit also alleged that after the escape, the guard hid in another room and did nothing to alert or protect the hospital staff.
The prison guard was fired as a defendant in the lawsuit, but in December 2018, the county council agreed to a $7.9 million settlement with the nurses, who filed a lawsuit in the name of Jane Doe, whose identities have not been publicly disclosed.
The law firm representing them declined to comment.
In July 2020, the county council approved a $97,000 workers compensation settlement with the prison guard, who then resigned.