Records: Liars, officers with impunity in 2018. Death of a prisoner

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ARTICLE – Former Illinois Jail Lieutenant Todd Sheffler Returns to Federal Court in Springfield, Illinois, April 21, 2022. Three former Illinois prison wardens, including Sheffler, face life behind bars after being beaten in 2018 by a Western Illinois Correctional inmate Center Earvin in a case marked by the impunity of other prison officers who are still getting pay raises, according to figures obtained by The Associated Press and court papers. (Photo AP / John O’Connor, file)

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Three former Illinois prison guards face their lives behind bars after the 2018 fatal beating of a 65-year-old inmate in a case marked by impunity by other prison officials who continue to receive pay increases, files obtained by The Associated Press and court documents show.

A jury in April convicted Department Officer Alex Bant and Lieutenant Todd Sheffler in August for violating federal civil rights, largely through the collaboration of a third, Sgt. Willie Hedden. Hedden hopes to have his sentence cut – despite pleading guilty to lying about his involvement until he pleaded guilty 18 months ago.

But Hedden’s account of what happened to Western Illinois Correctional Center inmate Larry Earvin on May 17, 2018, is not unique. Similar testimony was made by six other prison officers who are still working in the Mount Sterling Detention Center, 249 miles (400 kilometers) southwest of Chicago.

Like Hedden, they all confessed under oath that they had initially lied to authorities investigating Earvin’s death, including the Illinois State Police and the FBI. They concealed the brutal beatings that took place and resulted in Earvin’s death six weeks later from blunt force blows to the chest and abdomen, according to autopsy reports.

Documents obtained by The AP under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act indicate that none of the rangers have been fined for concealing information. Despite admitting indiscretion, Lt. Matthew Lindsey and Blake Haubrich, Sgt. Derek Hasten, Brett Hendricks and Shawn Volk, and Officer Richard Waterstraat flourished – three were promoted, one was on paid leave, and on average they saw almost 30% wage increases and pension benefits.

Even if they were made redundant now, they would keep the extra money from salary increases – whether related to promotions or contracts – and accompanying pension increases.

Phone numbers associated with officers are not connected or messages have not been returned. No one responded to a request from the Department of Corrections to speak to them.

Corrections spokeswoman Naomi Puzzello said an internal review of the Earvin incident had been postponed pending a federal investigation. She promised that Corrections would take “all appropriate steps” to punish misconduct. But she does not have the power to “collect past wages from an employee or reduce pensions,” she said.

Banta and Sheffler are in federal custody awaiting sentence – Banta on Tuesday and Sheffler on January 6. Hedden’s sentence was not planned.

Hedden testified in April that he credited “Western culture” that called for troublemakers to be beaten while escorting them to a segregation unit used to discipline inmates who break the rules or threaten prison security.

The Chief of Western was replaced in 2020 as part of the efforts Governor JB Pritzker said last spring was part of a culture shift that also included initiatives to tackle the use of force and establish a more affirmative approach to prisoners.

But responsibility also matters, said Jennifer Vollen-Katz, executive director of the John Howard Society, the prison warden.

“There is a worrying lack of transparency around staff discipline when it comes to corrections,” said Volllen-Katz. “It’s really hard to believe in a culture change … when you have employees who behave this way and it doesn’t seem to have any consequences.”

The Department of Justice is also doing its part. Lying to the FBI is a crime. Timothy Bass, the chief prosecutor on the case, said he could not comment on whether there would be any further investigations.

Officers, whose stories only changed after intensifying the investigation, testified under oath at the trials and clearly stated their reasons.

“There is an unwritten rule, a saying that goes around, ‘Snitch gets stitched …’,” Volk testified, explaining his fake interview with Illinois police a week after the Earvin incident. “You are part of the brotherhood with everyone and you don’t want to be the guy who reports.”

Lindsey was in charge of the segregation that day and testified that he saw Hedden, Sheffler, and Banta lead Earvin into the vestibule of the segregation unit, where there are no security cameras. He was one of the few witnesses who reported seeing Earvin punch, kick, and stomp before motioning for Sheffler through an interior window to stop.

Lindsey didn’t tell anyone what he saw. When the FBI called in late summer 2018, he was lying about “fear of retaliation,” according to his recent testimony.

As of May 2018, Lindsey has been promoted and his salary has risen 42% to $ 105,756, according to data disclosed by Corrections.

Hasten also said he was “just afraid of retaliation,” adding that his wife also works in the prison. His salary rose 17% to nearly $ 79,000, even after voluntarily switching to a lower-paying job at Western.

Hendricks and Volk were also in the segregation vestibule with Sheffler, Hedden, and Banta. Hendricks testified that he was shocked by the violence against Earvin, who was handcuffed behind his back and face down. But when asked why he lied to investigators, he admitted: “I did not want to complain about my associate.”

Hendricks has since received a promotion and wage increases of nearly 30%.

As state police officers spoke to Haubrich, they focused on the brutal treatment of Earvin that had started in his living quarters. Little did they know it was going on in entering segregation. But like Hendricks, Haubrich did not report anything about the brutality he saw as he “covered the backs of my fellow officers and brothers.”

Haubrich has been on paid leave from prison since May 2018, seeing his salary rise by almost 30% to $ 96,396. This is also the case with Lieutenant Benjamin Burnett, escorted from the prison grounds a few days after the Haubrich attack, along with Hedden and Banta.

Waterstraat, which was promoted with a 44% wage increase, disagreed with the authorities until he was brought before a grand jury.

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AP researcher Jennifer Farrar from New York helped.

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Follow political writer John O’Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor

This story was originally published October 30, 2022 9:40 am.

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