Inmate dies after drinking ‘hooch’ at DeKalb County jail

Published: Monday, Feb. 8, 2016 11:00 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016 10:19 a.m. CDT
Brandon Washington
(Monica Synett)
Christopher J. Gerken, of Sycamore

SYCAMORE – A bad batch of jailhouse “hooch” might be to blame for killing one man and sickening another at the DeKalb County jail on Monday, officials say.

Brandon A. Washington, 28, of Rochelle, became sick in his cell shortly before 2 a.m. Deputies were alerted after hearing banging on cell bars by other inmates, DeKalb County Sheriff Roger Scott said.

Police said Washington was unconscious when they found him. Deputies gave him CPR before he was taken to Kishwaukee Hospital, according to a news release from the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office.

Washington died at the hospital at 2:34 a.m., police said.

Washington ​was convicted in 2010 of attempted murder for shooting Jason Johnson of DeKalb in the face at point-blank range in May 2009. He had been sentenced to 38 years in prison, but was sent back to the DeKalb County Jail by court order last November after filing a post-conviction petition. He was scheduled to appear in court Tuesday, Scott said.

A preliminary investigation found Washington had been drinking homemade alcohol – commonly referred to as “hooch” – with cellmate Christopher Gerken, who faces murder charges in connection with a botched drug deal in October 2015.

Drugs also may have been involved, but toxicology results were pending an autopsy and lab testing, Scott said.

Inmates often use leftover food items – such as fruit and bread – to make alcohol. Deputies in the jail work to prevent inmates from doing this and confiscate any contraband found in the cells, Scott said. He said officers suspected drugs may have also been involved based on observations, but won’t know for sure until toxicology tests come back from the lab. Inmates frequently try to smuggle drugs and other contraband into the facility, Scott said.

“That’s something we are always on alert for,” he said.

Guards are limited in what types of searches they can perform on inmates coming into the jail, he added.

Gerken was taken to Kishwaukee Hospital shortly after 2:40 a.m. He refused treatment at the time, but was taken back to the hospital at 6:45 in the morning after he started vomiting again. At that time, he was admitted to the hospital, police said. Gerken is expected to recover. Once released by the hospital, he will be taken back to jail, Scott said.

The Illinois State Police and DeKalb County Coroner Dennis Miller are investigating Washington’s death. The State Police report will be filed with the DeKalb County State’s Attorney’s Office.

The State Police will look at the conduct of officers in the jail, Scott said. He said it was important to have an independent agency investigate.

The Illinois Department of Corrections also is conducting a review.

At least four other inmates have died from events that happened while they were in custody at the DeKalb County Jail. The first was a suicide by hanging in 1995. Brandi L. Brantley, 19, of DeKalb died April 2009 at the jail. Her death was ruled a suicide, but her family later filed a lawsuit. A report found that jail employees followed protocol. Gary Aspengren, 64, of Cortland, died at a Rockford hospital shortly after a fall at the jail in October 2009. Randall L. Dahl, 55, died of a blood clot in his lung after being found on the floor of his cell in May 2010.

Note to readers: This story was changed to reflect that a suicide by hanging took place at the jail in 1995. 

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