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Five years later, could deadly Geneva hospital standoff happen again?

Five years ago, the seemingly unthinkable happened at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital in Geneva.

A Kane County jail inmate, hospitalized after surgery, disarmed the jail officer guarding him and took a nurse hostage. He held her at gunpoint in a small room for several hours, raping and torturing her, before a SWAT team stormed in and shot him to death.

In the years since, the sheriff’s office has enacted “a litany” of changes aimed at correcting the missteps that made the shocking crime possible that day.

First among them, the sheriff’s office no longer sends just one guard to watch over a hospitalized inmate, Sheriff Ron Hain recently told us.

“Detainees should always be escorted and monitored in the hospital by at least two corrections officers,” said Hain, who was not sheriff in 2017.

His office also requires “strict adherence” to a policy that hospitalized detainees remain handcuffed at all times, unless medical workers ask for them to be removed.

That wasn’t the case on May 13, 2017, when inmate Tywon Salters was hospitalized after surgery to remove pieces of a plastic jail-issued sandal he had swallowed.

When Salters asked to be unshackled to use the bathroom, the guard agreed to do so. He then allowed the 21-year-old Salters to use the bathroom alone and did not re-shackle him when he returned. A nurse noticed, and asked the guard why, but did not get a response, according to a federal lawsuit later filed against the county, Delnor, the jail guard and the hospital’s security contractor.

According to Hain, Salters spent an “abnormal” amount of time in the bathroom while alone and uncuffed. He used that time to make a shank -- a homemade knife -- he later used to threaten the officer before taking his gun.

Salters’ ability to disarm the guard led to more changes in the sheriff’s office.

Hain said jail guards historically had not received “structured” self-defense or tactical training, beyond a qualifying firearms test once a year. So in 2019, he established a Sheriff’s Tactical Training Unit to teach all sworn members of his staff -- including jail guards -- tactical and self-defense skills.

He also outfitted corrections officers in 2019 with stun guns.

These, plus other changes at the jail, have decreased use-of-force incidents and injuries to staff, he said.

Hain said that the sheriff’s office also meets regularly with hospital administrators and security workers to discuss security issues.

“We have developed a great relationship with Delnor security and administration,” he said.

Hospital response

Christopher King, chief media relations executive for Northwestern Medicine, said that the 2017 attack “reminded us of the significant consequences of workplace violence.”

He said Northwestern has implemented several initiatives systemwide, including installing wireless patient monitoring cameras with two-way communication ability to deal with potentially disruptive patients.

King said the hospital system has annual meetings with staff from jails, detention centers and prisons, and has added workers that specialize in de-escalating disruptive behavior.

“Our staff has exhibited remarkable resilience and we will continually review and update our policies and procedures to ensure an event like the one at Delnor does not happen again,” King said.

Litigation update

The federal lawsuit from four nurses claimed negligence by the county and jail guard led to the assault that day. The suit alleged that Salters -- who they said was suicidal and desperate -- was only guarded by one officer at a time, and nurses saw the guards using their personal cellphones and laptop computers while sitting on recliners and the couch 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 hospital staff.

The jail guard was dismissed as a defendant in the lawsuit, but in December 2018, the county board approved a $7.9 million settlement with the nurses, who sued as Jane Does, and have never been publicly identified.

The law firm that represented them declined to comment.

In July 2020, the county board approved a $97,000 workers’ compensation settlement with the jail guard, who then resigned.