The Crusader Newspaper Group

State Representative La Shawn Ford introduces bill to address prison beatings of inmates

State Representative La Shawn Ford has introduced a bill aimed at closing a “legal loophole” and providing justice to inmates who have been unjustly beaten while in prison.

The move came after shocking revelations of the brutal deadly inmate beatings in the notorious “blind spot” by Illinois Correctional Officers at Western Illinois Correctional Center, including the vicious deadly beating of 65-year-old Larry Earvin.

Earvin was serving a six-year sentence for robbery in Cook County. He was scheduled to be paroled in September 2018, but he died at a Centralia Correctional Center hospital on June 26 of that year.

Ford believes that prisons need outside monitoring to boost accountability and transparency in state prisons.

“I introduced HB4119 in response to the chorus of cries for justice and to ensure that all victims and families who have had their basic civil and constitutional rights so brutally and violently violated are not prevented from utilizing our courts to obtain the justice that they are entitled to,” said Representative Ford. “This great nation has been finally awakened to the critical need for justice reform – we cannot for- get that there must be accountability for correctional officers, our prison officials, and the State.”

Reportedly, correctional officers repeatedly punched, kicked and stomped Earvin’s head, abdomen, arms and legs so severely and brutally that he suffered 15 rib fractures, a punctured colon (resulting in his re- quiring a colostomy bag), critical neurological injuries, more than 48 contusions and abrasions to his scalp, both feet and ankles, knees, legs, buttocks, rectum, back, sternum, chest, arms, wrists, forehead, face, and eyebrows.

Close to two dozen officers stood by and did nothing to intervene despite Earvin’s screams throughout the beating.

Earvin died in 2018 after he was airlifted from the prison, about 250 miles southwest of Chicago.

He died six weeks later. An autopsy ruled the death a homicide due to blunt force trauma.

Earvin’s alleged killers, Willie Hedden was charged in December 2019, along with correctional Lt. Todd Sheffler of Mendon and officer Alex Banta of Quincy.

They face charges of conspiracy to deprive civil rights, deprivation of civil rights, obstruction of an investigation, falsification of documents and misleading conduct.

Sheffler and Banta have pleaded not guilty.

Hedden, 42, of Mount Sterling, pleaded guilty to two counts of civil rights violations and one count of providing misleading information in the subsequent investigation of Earvin’s death. Hedden remains free on bond.

The trial of Banta and Sheffler was scheduled to begin in July but was delayed a second time because of rising COVID-19 cases in Illinois. The trial is now scheduled for November of this year.

Hedden remains free on bond. The Illinois Department of Corrections put Hedden, Sheffler and Banta on suspension without pay pending a judicial verdict in December 2019.

The Associated Press reported that employees in Hedden’s position typically face a Corrections department discharge hearing, the results of which must be approved by the state’s personnel agency, the Department of Central Management Services.

Before Earvin’s death, WBEZ reported that there were complaints about similar behavior that went ignored.

Prisoners filed lawsuits about beatings, and the state paid out settlements.

In the WBEZ report, a former nurse at WICC confirmed that prisoners are routinely taken by a group of correctional officers to the area outside of the segregation unit known as the blind spot, where there are no cameras and beaten (sometimes to death), while in handcuffs.

The news outlet, citing obtained internal prison documents, said a staff member at Western raised concerns about what was happen- ing in the facility, but a guard cornered her and told her to stay out of what happens in the blind spot.

WBEZ also found health records where a nurse from an outside hospital said guards stopped her from taking pictures of one man’s injuries after he was allegedly beaten, and prevented him from making a police report.

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