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'Empire' Is Being Sued By Ex-Cook County Juvenile Detention Center Residents

By Gwendolyn Purdom in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 25, 2016 6:39PM

Partial Empire cast, courtesy of Fox/Facebook

The Chicago-based Fox hit Empire is known for its drama on screen—and this week the series proved once again it's a mink-draped fountain of real-life drama as well.

Just a few weeks before the show's Season 3 premiere, two unnamed former residents of the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center filed a suit against the creators of the Emmy-nominated series, the superintendent of the center, Cook County and others Wednesday claiming that the show's shooting of two episodes at the facility last summer essentially placed its residents in "lockdown" and kept them from important services and resources.

During the filming, the suit says:

"The children for whom these facilities were intended, meanwhile, were ordered to remain in their cells, or were confined to the jail-style “pod” areas just outside their cell doors. There they were told to sit, for days on end. Their schooling continued in name only, visits from their families were interrupted, cut back, or effectively eliminated, sick-call requests were ignored, and programs that are intended to help them overcome the problems that landed them at the JTDC in the first place were cancelled or interrupted."

The episodes in question featured Terrence Howard's character behind bars and were shot in three- to five-day increments in June, July and August of 2015.

Wednesday suit, filed by two minors referred to in the filing as T.S. and Q.B. and their respective guardians, is just the latest legal trouble Empire has found itself in since the show debuted in January of last year. Last August, a Michigan woman sued creators of the show saying the Cookie Lyon character, played by Taraji P. Henson (who just nabbed her latest Emmy nomination for the role in July), is based on her life and memoir. According to Deadline, a judge ruled against a motion to dismiss that case just last week. Terrence Howard's former managers have also taken legal action, alleging they kept Howard from being booted from the show and are still owed money from Season 2.

The detention center has been a source of controversy on its own as well. In 2014, for instance, hundreds marched to protest what they saw as a crooked system that invests more in prisons than youth education. A study from the Chicago Youth Justice Data Project around that time showed incarcerated youth were 39 percent less likely than their peers to finish high school and 67 percent more likely of ending up in jail again before age 25, so it's not hard to see why the plaintiffs in this latest case weren't too happy with a Hollywood takeover getting in the way of the opportunities they did have while at the center.

T.S., Q.B. and their guardians (as well as up to 400 other class action members) are seeking profits from the episodes shot at the West Side center.