Chicago, IL — A Chicago mother of a six-year-old boy found herself behind bars for 49 days, without bail or recourse — missing his birthday and Thanksgiving — because inept bureaucrats made an egregious clerical error.
Indeed, Latasha Eatman might be lucky she didn’t have a lengthier stay in a cage — the error was only discovered when a Cook County Sheriff’s Official ordered an audit of first time offenders currently housed in the jail.
More than two decades after a judge dismissed a community service order for minor marijuana possession, Eatman’s nightmarish captivity began, courtesy of a series of blunders that never should have happened.
“I’m thinking in my mind, like, what have I done?” the mother told CBS Chicago in an interview, discussing a raid by two Chicago police officers on October 14, who were attempting to determine if the store where she’d worked for 15 years was selling illegal — read: untaxed — cigarettes.
Officers wrote the store a ticket and placed Eatman in cuffs — but she had no idea they would be stealing the next seven weeks of her life without any conceivable just cause.
CBS reports, “The officers had discovered a 1994 warrant that said Eatman was wanted for not completing the community service, which she was originally ordered to perform after a low-level 1993 marijuana arrest. Eatman had tried to perform the community service repeatedly at the time, but the organization she was supposed to work for was closed or had no room for her whenever she showed up. Her judge at the time acknowledged the effort she put in and terminated her probation, according to Cara Smith, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office’s chief police officer.
“But somehow a warrant for Eatman’s arrest remained on file.”
Smith told the outlet it took ten days before a judge even heard Eatman’s case — but that he seemed hostile and suspicious of her story — and even threatened to send her to prison. He denied bond, and she spent an additional 39 days locked up — missing her son’s sixth birthday and Thanksgiving.
For seven weeks, Eatman desperately tried to prevent the child from finding out where she actually was.
“I told my son I was at work, out of town for my boss,” Eatman explained to CBS. “I told him at first I was at school. And he was like, ‘You’re at big girl school?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah.’”
Eatman had committed no crime — and the officers responsible for locking her up had merely been acting as armed tax enforcers and victimless crime investigators — “beat cops to ensure vice taxes are being adhered to,” as Reason describes.
Cara Smith accidentally became Eatman’s savior after ordering an examination of instances in which women were behind bars for the first time — staff stumbled upon the innocent mother’s case.
“We raised holy hell with the prosecutor’s office,” Smith told CBS.
Eatman was freed the following day.
“You wonder why these communities don’t trust law enforcement. Can you imagine a more thoughtless, cruel way to handle this? She was treated like a real criminal,” Smith noted of Eatman, who is African American.
Eatman’s stay in jail tragically isn’t an aberration, Smith explained, as shoddy communication between police, sheriff’s departments, prosecutors offices, and other agencies isn’t infrequent.
Add to that unfair laws, bias on every level, and a whopping number of people serving time for nonviolent offenses, and it’s readily apparent why a massive swath of the populace prefers the term ‘injustice system’ to characterize the incarceration-industrial complex.
“This case terrifies me,” Smith added. “Let’s remember, her bills continued. Her rent and her heat, all those things continued to accrue despite the fact that she was in jail.”
Eatman will probably never be recompensed for the time lost locked in a cage for literally no reason — but what is really appalling is how easily this happened to an innocent person. A shamefully voluminous number of federal, state, and local laws — and a callous court system, indifferent to much of anything but expedience — have crafted a juggernaut of a backlog and a swiss cheese complex of ways to fall through the holes in the barely-functioning system.
“Without so much as an apology or an explanation, it took 49 days of her life away,” Smith said of the Eatman fiasco. “For no reason at all. And that included 49 days she wasn’t with her son. It included 49 days she wasn’t working. Without so much as an explanation of what happened to her.”
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