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$75,000 Award for Illinois Prisoner Subjected to Forced Feeding

An Illinois federal jury awarded $75,000 to a prisoner who was subjected to excessive force during a force feeding procedure.  Post-trial, the parties reached a confidential settlement that included attorney fees.

Illinois prisoner John Williams went a hunger strike at Stateville Correctional Center to protest the loss of his good time credits after his request to call witnesses at a disciplinary hearing was refused. Williams began his hunger strike on February 18, 2009, and was placed in the Medical Unit on March 2nd.  After being assured by Dr. Parthasarati Ghosh that insertion of feeding tube was a safe procedure with little pain, Williams granted Ghosh permission to insert the tube.

The insertion was hardly painless, leaving Williams unconscious and with two black eyes. The tube stopped operating on March 8, and efforts to make it work failed.  Williams then removed the tube. Ghosh again requested permission to insert another tube on March 16. Based upon his previous experience, which included chest pains, Williams requested a full physical exam and an E.K.G. prior to the insertion.

Ghosh left and returned with the two assistant wardens, one of whom was Warden Marvin Reed. When discussion failed to result in permission to insert the tube, Assistant Warden Hosey ordered the Tact Team to deal with Williams.

The Tact Team arrived in riot gear and sandwiched Williams with their shields.  He was snatched to his feet and kneed violently in the chest, ribs and midsection; he was then pepper sprayed while handcuffed and shackled. Williams was then forced onto a Medical Unit bed and held down while Ghosh attempted, without having Williams decontaminated of the pepper spray, to insert the feeding tube.

Working against Williams struggles, Ghosh told the Tact Team Williams was not cooperating.  That resulted in Tact Team members bending Williams’ wrist backwards and poking him in the ear with a metal object three times. One Tact Team member said, “this is what happens when you protest against Tact.”  When Williams complained to Reed, he replied “come off hunger strike” as he left the room. When Ghosh finally inserted the tube, it was, Williams alleged, contaminated with pepper spray, causing a burning sensation in his nose and throat.

The video tape of the incident was altered to omit sections before it was turned over during discovery. Prior to trial in March 2014, Williams reached a settlement with guards Donald Thomas, Karl Kirk, Mark Cole, Shashonna Cole, Christopher Dever, Travis Zaccord, Jose Prado and Matthew Zematis. The jury determined Ghosh violated Williams’ rights, awarding $20,000 compensatory damages, $35,000 punitive damages for failure to intervene, and $20,000 compensatory damages for inflicting emotional distress. Williams was represented by attorneys William B. Oberts  and  Eric F. Long. See: Williams v. Reed, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Ill.), Case No. 11-cv-01434. 

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Related legal case

Williams v. Reed