Unacceptable Behavior by Prison Guards

From the U.S. Attorney in Springfield:

Three Illinois Prison Guards Indicted on Charges of Inmate Assault Resulting in Death and Obstruction of the Investigation

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Three Illinois correctional officers made their initial appearance in federal court this morning following their arrest on charges related to the May 2018 assault of an inmate who later died, at Western Illinois Correctional Center in Mt. Sterling, Ill.

Those charged are Todd Sheffler, 51, of Mendon; Willie Hedden, 41, of Mt. Sterling, and Alex Banta, 28, of Quincy.

The indictment alleges that on May 17, 2018, Sheffler, Hedden and Banta assaulted an inmate, who was restrained and handcuffed behind his back at the time, during an escort to another prison unit, in violation of his Constitutional protection to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.

The victim, identified as Larry Earvin, suffered multiple broken ribs, a punctured colon, and other serious internal injuries, and died in June 2018.

The indictment alleges that each defendant falsified incident reports to omit any reference to the assault and that they misled agents of the Illinois State Police by denying any knowledge of the assault of Earvin that each participated in and witnessed.

“Our laws protect the civil rights of all,” stated U.S. Attorney John Milhiser.

“Every day, correctional officers report for public service that is often demanding and under-appreciated. However, our criminal justice system requires that those who perform these difficult duties do so lawfully. Those responsible for the deadly assault of Mr. Earvin must be held accountable.”

Milhiser commended the Illinois Department of Corrections for its cooperation and the FBI and Illinois State Police for their thorough investigation of this tragic incident.

Sean M. Cox, FBI Special Agent in Charge stated:

“The FBI is committed to vigorously investigating allegations of Constitutional violations by law enforcement officers, including correctional officers, who in this investigation have been indicted with violating the civil rights of Mr. Earvin. This case should be a reminder that everyone, including individuals who are incarcerated, is afforded the same protections under the U.S. Constitution, and no one wearing a badge is above the law.”

The defendants were arrested late yesterday, Dec. 5, by the FBI and Illinois State Police, and appeared today for arraignment in federal court before U.S. District Judge Sue E. Myerscough.

The indictment, returned by the grand jury this week, remained sealed pending the defendants’ arrest and court appearance. An initial trial date of Feb. 4, 2020, has been scheduled. Detention hearings for the defendants have been scheduled for this afternoon.

At the time of the alleged crimes, Sheffler was a lieutenant at Western Illinois Correctional Center (WICC); Hedden was a sergeant, and, Banta was a correctional officer, subordinate to Sheffler and Hedden.

Inmate Larry Earvin, who was 65 years old, was an inmate at WICC and would have been eligible for parole in September 2018.

According to the indictment, on May 17, 2018, Sheffler, Hedden, and Banta participated in the forcible escort of Earvin from his residential unit to the segregation housing unit.

During the transport, Earvin was physically assaulted, without legal justification, while he was restrained and handcuffed behind his back and posed no physical threat to the defendants or other correctional officers.

The indictment alleges that Sheffler, the lieutenant, and most senior officer, and Hedden, the sergeant and senior officer to Banta, failed to intervene to protect Earvin from the assault.

Following the assault, Sheffler, Hedden and Banta each allegedly filed knowingly false incident reports that failed to disclose any assault of Earvin.

The false reports allegedly included identical language used by Hedden and Banta that falsely stated that Earvin was delivered to staff in the segregation housing unit “without further incident” other than Earvin resisting the escort and refusing to walk.

In addition, the indictment alleges that Sheffler, Hedden and Banta knowingly misled agents of the Illinois State Police during individual interviews by falsely denying any knowledge of the assault of Earvin that they participated in and witnessed.

Hedden is charged in an additional count of obstruction that alleges he persuaded a friend, a fellow employee at WICC, to delete a text message Hedden had sent to the friend following the May 17 incident, to conceal and destroy information relating to the offenses charged.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Timothy A. Bass and Victor B. Yanz are representing the government in the prosecution.

The charges were investigated by agents of the FBI-Springfield Division and the Illinois State Police Division of Internal Investigation with the cooperation of the Illinois Department of Corrections.

Specifically, the indictment charges Sheffler, Hedden and Banta with

  • conspiracy to deprive civil rights (one count);
  • deprivation of civil rights (one count); and
  • conspiracy to obstruct justice (one count.).

Each defendant is charged individually with

  • obstruction of the investigation
  • falsification of document (one count) and
  • misleading conduct (one count.)

In addition, Hedden is charged with destruction of a record or other object (one count.)

As charged, the statutory sentence for both conspiracy to deprive civil rights and deprivation of civil rights under color of law resulting in bodily injury and death is any term of imprisonment up to life.

For each count of obstruction, the maximum statutory penalty is up to 20 years in prison.

Members of the public are reminded that an indictment is merely an accusation; each defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty.

A copy of the court-filed, unsealed indictment is attached. The court docket number for this case is 19-30067


Unacceptable Behavior by Prison Guards — 9 Comments

  1. In my opinion, this is the type of case that McHenry County States Attorney Patrick Kenneally wouldn’t get involved in.

    Government employees charged while performing their job would be controversial and he could make those in power upset who have political connections which could lead to lost votes.

    The low hanging fruit and Defendant confessions are his modus operandi.

  2. It’s almost always better to let the Feds handle cases of LE or prison guard misconduct.

    It’s specifically covered under federal law, so they have every right to get involved.

    A local investigation is usually more about damage control than exposing and punishing the malefactors.

    The U.S. Attorney’s Office generally doesn’t care a whole lot about local sensitivities.

  3. A prison is a building in which people are legally held as a punishment for a crime they have committed or while awaiting trial.
    London is known as the birthplace of modern imprisonment.
    A Philosopher named Jeremy Bentham was against the death penalty and thus created a concept for a prison that would be used to hold prisoners as a form of punishment.
    Bentham drew up plans for a facility in which prisoners would remain for extended periods of time.
    His design was intended to ensure that the people who were locked up would never know if they were being watched by guards or not, which he felt would allow the prison to save money.
    Since the inmates could not be certain how many guards were present, Bentham reasoned, fewer officers would need to be hired to maintain the peace.
    In the end, this prison was never built, but the concept of using prisons as a form of long term punishment did catch on.
    By the 19th century, prisons were being built for the sole purpose of housing inmates.
    They were intended to deter people from committing crimes.
    People who were found guilty of various crimes would be sent to these penitentiaries and stripped of their personal freedoms.
    Inmates were often forced to do hard labor while they were incarcerated and to live in very harsh conditions.
    Before long, one of the goals of a prison sentence became the rehabilitation of inmates.
    Many people felt that the fear of being locked up would be enough to deter an inmate from ever committing another crime, but other theories held that policies should be introduced to help reform prisoners before they were set free.
    These policies include mental examinations, educational programs and sometimes even far more drastic measures such as electroshock therapy.
    An opposing viewpoint to the rehabilitative effects of imprisonment claims that being incarcerated will actually cause people to become even more involved with a life of crime, because they become so enveloped in a criminal society while living with other inmates.
    Regardless of these conflicting opinions on rehabilitation of criminals, imprisonment continues to be one of the most common forms of punishment around the world.
    Source: my prodigious brain. Got fire? Stay tuned…tic, tock, tic, tock, tic, tock, meeeeeeeeoooooooooowwwwwwwwwwwwww…

  4. Shouldn’t you be out raising money for your buddy’s defense to keep him out of prison?

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