Darin Gater, 36, of Chicago, as seen in a Feb. 14 booking photo provided by the Cook County Sheriff's Department.
updated 2/15/2006 9:54:29 PM ET 2006-02-16T02:54:29

When the jail guard first explained how six prisoners had escaped, authorities said he described being held at bay with a makeshift knife as inmates set fire to a mattress to lure another guard to the scene.

Later, Darin Gater told investigators he had aided the escape to influence the upcoming sheriff’s election by embarrassing outgoing Cook County Sheriff Michael Sheahan, a law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press.

Gater, 36, of Chicago appeared in court Wednesday by video but did not make a statement.

He was ordered held on $500,000 bond on two counts of aggravated battery of a correctional officer, aggravated arson, escape and official misconduct. All six inmates who escaped from the Cook County Jail last weekend have been captured.

Gater also was charged with possession of contraband — a shank, or homemade knife — in a penal institution and bringing contraband — a cell phone — into a penal institution, said Cook County state’s attorney’s spokesman John Gorman.

Inmate relatives charged
Also Wednesday, the brother and sister of one of the escaped inmates, Francisco Romero, were charged in the case. Anna Romero and Jose Romero each face four counts of aiding an escapee.

The official who described Gater’s alleged admission, first reported by the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times, spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.

An attorney with the Metropolitan Alliance of Police law enforcement union said Gater had retained a private attorney, but did not know the lawyer’s name. A home telephone number for Gater was unlisted.

Richard Remus, who is running against Tom Dart — Sheahan’s chief of staff — and Sylvester Baker Jr. for the Democratic nomination for sheriff, said he doubts reports that Gater was trying to help his campaign.

“An officer is going to sacrifice his life or family for political gain for somebody else? It’s beyond my understanding of human nature — I can’t see it,” Remus said.

Remus said Gater has not worked on his campaign and is not a friend. Remus was once his supervisor at the jail.

Claims he was overpowered
Gater — a former Marine who worked in the sheriff’s department for 11 years — initially said he went into the shower area and removed an inmate’s handcuffs and leg irons to let him shower. He said the inmate threw hot soapy water on him and held him at bay with the knife.

The inmate then handcuffed Gater, put on his uniform and opened the electronic jail cell doors to let out six other inmates, according to Gater’s original statements. Other inmates set the mattress fire to lure another guard, who was overpowered for his keys to unlock doors to a parking lot, he said.

Sheriff’s department spokesman Bill Cunningham declined to comment on the charges, which came the same day the Chicago Police Department said its officers forwarded a tip about the escape to the sheriff’s office hours before the inmates fled.

Police gave the information to Cook County authorities around 3:30 p.m. Saturday, police spokeswoman Monique Bond said. The six inmates broke out about midnight.

The jailbreak was the third at the Cook County Jail in the past 10 months. No inmates had escaped in the previous 10 years.

The sheriff’s office said an officer at the jail followed proper procedure by forwarding the police department’s tip to personnel assigned to the jail section where the plot supposedly was centered.

Cunningham said six jail officers on duty at the time of the jailbreak have been suspended with pay while the investigation continues. Gater is one of them.

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