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Charges filed in security breach at Cook County court

A man from Chicago has been arrested and charged after allegedly breaking into a locked courtroom at the Daley Center on July 28.

Court records show authorities filed one misdemeanor count of criminal trespass to state land against Antonio Hammond on Thursday.

Officials told WBEZ that Hammond was the man who allegedly kicked open a locked door in a courtroom on the fourth floor of the Daley Center last month.

The incident at the Cook County Circuit Court in downtown Chicago prompted a call for heightened security from the county’s chief judge, Timothy Evans. In letters obtained by WBEZ, Evans has described the incident as a “very serious breach of security.”

In a letter to all the county’s judges on the day after the incident, Evans wrote, “An angry litigant was wandering the halls, yelling and being disruptive.”

Evans added, “As he approached Courtroom 402, which was locked, he ran at the door, kicked it, damaged it such that he was able to enter the courtroom, which was occupied by a clerk, and make his way to the judge’s chair on the bench.”

Nobody was hurt, Evans said, due to “the quick thinking of our Traffic Division colleagues, who pulled staff into their chambers and called for assistance.”

In a separate letter to Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, Evans wrote, “The main lesson to be taken from this incident is that your office needs to provide additional staff to assure that judges, employees, and visitors can safely conduct their business in the courthouses .”

But in a statement, Dart’s office said Evans’s version of what had happened was inaccurate. Dart’s office said sheriff’s deputies responded to the problem in a courtroom that was not in use at the time, and it was they who resolved the incident at the Daley Center last week.

“A Sheriff’s Deputy who was stationed in an adjacent courtroom where court was responded in session and confronted the individual, who appeared to be in the midst of a mental health episode,” Dart’s office said. “The Deputy and other responding Deputies were able to de-escalate the situation and the man left the courtroom peacefully.”

The incident at the Daley Center came just a few weeks after another Cook County judge, Joe Panarese, wrote to Evans and to the Illinois Supreme Court to call for enhanced security measures.

“The vast majority of my colleagues do not feel safe at work or at home anymore,” Panarese wrote on June 22. “Please do not overlook the dangerous situations that we as Judges are confronted with every day.”

In his letter, Panarese cited the murder in early June of a judge in Wisconsin by a man he had sentenced to prison and the slayings of two family members of a federal judge, Joan Lefkow, on the North Side of Chicago in 2005.

Bond for Hammond was set at $20,000, according to court records. His next court date is scheduled for 9 am on Aug 17.

A spokeswoman for Evans declined to comment Friday, citing the ongoing case against Hammond.

A spokeswoman for Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx also declined to comment.

Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter on WBEZ’s Government & Politics Team. Follow him on Twitter @dmihalopoulos.

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