Sheriff Sandage slams McLean County Board member over contacts with inmates
McLean County Sheriff Jon Sandage is accusing a county board member of creating safety hazards at the jail by corresponding with inmates and, in one case, trying to help an inmate take legal action against the county.
Sandage raised the allegations against Sharon Chung during the board’s Justice Committee meeting on Tuesday. Chung disputed Sandage’s characterization and said she’s not going to be a “rubber stamp” for how the sheriff runs the jail.
Sandage referenced multiple emails he said were from Chung that the first-term board member apparently sent to inmates. Several times, Sandage asked Chung if the emails were from her.
Sandage’s comments mark the latest in an ongoing battle between the two-term Republican sheriff and Democrats on the county board over jail operations.
Sandage obtained the emails through a Freedom of Information Act request. Sandage said on March 3, Chung reportedly called an attorney on behalf of an inmate to solicit a lawsuit against the county. Sandage said the inmate is a violent, convicted felon who law enforcement described as having “white supremacist tattoos and beliefs.”
“Miss Chung, I suggest if you want to know more about the jail you come tour the jail, otherwise, your half-truths and the way you are going about it is causing conflict in the facility, and is making it unsafe for not only staff, but inmates,” Sandage said.
Chung did not respond to Sandage’s claims during the meeting.
After the meeting, Chung told WGLT she recalled contacting an attorney over an inmate’s situation, but said she was only “exploring possibilities” on behalf of inmates she felt were being mistreated. She would not discuss the nature of the complaint, citing privacy concerns for the inmate.
Chung said Sandage provided county board members’ contact information to inmates’ families after he had temporarily removed tablets for inmates and told them to contact board members if they were upset about it. The board had stalled a vote on a revised contract for the tablets. Democrats on the board said the county should not be profiting off the devices for inmates to use.
Sandage also said Chung gave guidance to an inmate’s family on how to get legal paperwork into the jail. He said he told Chung in an April 22 email that Chung’s name was coming up frequently in jail phone calls with inmates, that inmates were sharing her phone number and that it was a safety concern. The sheriff said Chung then contacted inmates’ families and told them not to mention her name during phone conversations.
Sandage said Chung wrote in one email that the jail expansion was built “under the guise of mental health.”
“Miss Chung has never toured our jail. She does not know the mental health services we provide, nor the improvements we have made,” Sandage said.
Chung said she’s not interested in a jail tour because she doesn’t believe Sandage would allow her to see how inmates are actually being treated. “I am still not quite understanding how locking people down for 18 hours a day can help anybody’s mental health,” said Chung, referring to COVID-related restrictions which she said Sandage has been too slow to relax.
Chung said she has been contacted by at least a dozen inmates or their family members because they had concerns about how the inmates were being treated.
"I feel I've been in touch with enough people that I feel like everybody can't be lying about what's happening," Chung said.
Sandage also claimed Chung told families that the sheriff was lying and trying to discredit her political campaign. Chung has filed for a seat in the Illinois House and will be running in a contested primary in June. Sandage is not seeking reelection when his current term expires this year.
Chung said she considers her conversations with upset inmates and their families a part of her job to represent them as she would anyone else in her role on the county board. “I have that duty to take these issues seriously and raise questions about how people are being treated in there,” she said.