* Sheriff: 'I can't keep doing this and have a good conscience about it'
* Sheriff Thomas Dart says he is suspending foreclosure evictions in Cook County
* Cook County on pace to exceed 43,000 foreclosure cases this year
CHICAGO, Illinois (CNN) -- An outraged sheriff in Illinois who refuses to evict "innocent" renters from foreclosed homes criticized mortgage companies and said the law should protect victims of the mortgage meltdown.
Sheriff Thomas J. Dart said earlier he is suspending foreclosure evictions in Cook County, which includes the city of Chicago.
The county had been on track to reach a record number of evictions, many because of mortgage foreclosures.
Many good tenants are suffering because building owners have fallen behind on their mortgage payments, he said Thursday on CNN's "American Morning."
"These poor people are seeing everything they own put out on the street. ... They've paid their bills, paid them on time. Here we are with a battering ram at the front door going to throw them out. It's gotten insane," he said.
Mortgage companies are supposed to identify a building's occupants before asking for an eviction, but sheriff's deputies routinely find that the mortgage companies have not done so, Dart said.
"This is an example where the banking industry has not done any of the work they should do. It's a piece of paper to them," Dart said.
"These mortgage companies ... don't care who's in the building," Dart said Wednesday. "They simply want their money and don't care who gets hurt along the way.
"On top of it all, they want taxpayers to fund their investigative work for them. We're not going to do their jobs for them anymore. We're just not going to evict innocent tenants. It stops today."
Dart said he wants the courts or the state Legislature to establish protections for those most harmed by the mortgage crisis.
In 1999, Cook County had 12,935 mortgage foreclosure cases; in 2006, 18,916 cases were filed, and last year, 32,269 were filed. This year's total is expected to exceed 43,000.
"The people we're interacting with are, many times, oblivious to the financial straits their landlord might be in," Dart said. "They are the innocent victims here, and they are the ones all of us must step up and find some way to protect."
The Illinois Bankers Association opposed the plan, saying that Dart "was elected to uphold the law and to fulfill the legal duties of his office, which include serving eviction notices."
The association said Dart could be found in contempt of court for ignoring court eviction orders.
"The reality is that by ignoring the law and his legal responsibilities, he is carrying out 'vigilantism' at the highest level of an elected official," it said. "The Illinois banking industry is working hard to help troubled homeowners in many ways, but Sheriff Dart's declaration of 'martial law' should not be tolerated."
Dart was undeterred Thursday.
"I think the outrage on my part with them [is] that they could so cavalierly issue documents and have me throw people out of homes who have done absolutely nothing wrong," Dart said. "They played by all the rules.
"I told them, 'You send an agent out, you send somebody out that gives me any type of assurance that the appropriate person is in the house, I will fulfill the order.' iReport.com: How hard have foreclosures hit your neighborhood?
"When you're blindly sending me out to houses where I'm coming across innocent tenant after innocent tenant, I can't keep doing this and have a good conscience about it."