He was locked in a cell with his client, convicted wannabe torturer Steven Mandell, but when he pressed the room’s emergency button, nobody came, lawyer Frank Lipuma says.
And the disturbing recent security lapse in the “hole”—where some of the most dangerous inmates at the downtown Metropolitan Correctional Center are kept—was more than just an oversight, it was part of a “pattern of displays of abuse of power” by federal prison guards, Lipuma alleges.
“I scream, I bang on the window, I press the emergency button, and no one comes,” Lipuma told U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve as a shackled Mandell stood beside him Thursday morning.
Lipuma wasn’t complaining about the risk to his own safety—instead he said he was concerned about the health of Mandell, who is diabetic, and the “chilling effect” the guards’ actions are having on his relationship with Mandell.
“What would happen if there was a medical emergency?” he asked the judge.
But it didn’t require an especially vivid imagination to hear a blood-curdling subtext to his remarks.
Mandell, a 63-year-old former Chicago cop, was convicted in February of plotting to abduct, torture, extort and murder a businessman, and is suspected in at least five unsolved murders dating back over three decades.
Secretly-filmed video footage of Mandell gleefully discussing the torture plot inside a purposely-built Northwest Side torture chamber—played for jurors during Mandell’s recent trial—was some of the grizzliest evidence heard in Chicago’s federal court in years.
Even while behind the bars of the MCC, the feds allege, Mandell last year tried to arrange the murder of a key government witness against him.
Lipuma, who was hired by Mandell to represent him at his forthcoming sentencing hearing, complained Thursday that prison guards have kept him waiting for as long as four hours to meet with Mandell in the MCC’s Segregated Housing Unit, where Mandell is being held in confinement on the orders of Attorney General Eric Holder.
Guards have forced Lipuma to meet with Mandell in a tiny locked room equipped with a video camera; have denied him access to a bathroom; have lied to him about delays; and in one incident last month, one guard “went into an unprovoked rage” during which he cursed at and threatened Lipuma, Lipuma alleged in a court filing.
St. Eve told him that his private conversations with Mandell were not being recorded, said she’d arrange for Lipuma and Mandell to have the use of a larger room, and encouraged Lipuma to take up his complaints with the MCC’s warden, Catherine Linaweaver.
An MCC spokesman did not immediately return calls seeking comment Thursday morning.
Mandell is due to be sentenced in October and likely faces a life behind bars.