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Illinois: Prison Guards Sued for Fatally Beating, Suffocating Prisoner

by Lonnie Burton

On October 4, 2015, Illinois State prison guards identified only as officers Boland, Bufford and Deal beat prisoner Terrance Jenkins to death at the Pontiac Correctional Center while he was restrained, and suffocated him by shoving a piece of paper down his throat.

Those are the allegations in a lawsuit filed by Phyllis Ellis, Jenkins’ wife, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois on October 3, 2016. The 56-year-old Jenkins, who was glaucomic and housed in protective custody, died from asphyxiation. [See: PLN, March 2017, p.63].

According to the complaint, Jenkins was an avid cards and dominoes player who was on his way to the recreation yard at Pontiac when he was confronted by guards Boland, Deal and Bufford. They ordered Jenkins to stand for a pat search, at which time they found a small swatch of toilet paper in his breast pocket. The guards told Jenkins they were going to take his yard time away because paper was not allowed, and Jenkins tried to explain that he needed the tissue due to excessive eye drainage caused by his glaucoma.

One of the guards then screamed at Jenkins to “cuff the fuck up,” while he continued to plead his case for having the tissue paper. Bolden sprayed Jenkins with mace, after which all three guards reportedly began beating Jenkins and dragged him out of the view of other prisoners.

At one point, the complaint says, Jenkins was slammed against the floor, causing him to scream that they were breaking his arm. He was then cuffed and placed in leg-irons, at which point the guards “viciously attacked Mr. Jenkins, beating him about the face, head, neck, back, wrists, ankles and knees. Defendants then shoved a piece of paper (perhaps the same paper they took from his pocket) so far down Mr. Jenkins’ throat that he suffocated.”

An autopsy later confirmed that Jenkins died as a result of “restraint asphyxia and airway occlusion by a foreign object.” It further noted that weight applied to Jenkins while he was in a prone position and restrained had contributed to his death.

The federal lawsuit – which seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, attorney’s fees, and costs – asserts claims for excessive force, failure to intervene, conspiracy, emotional distress, battery, negligence and wrongful death.

The complaint also alleges that the assault on Jenkins was not an isolated incident at Pontiac. “To the contrary, unjustified violence against prisoners at the prison is a common occurrence,” it states. Boland, Deal and Bufford were accused of beating another prisoner about a week before Jenkins was killed.

The suit names as defendants Pontiac warden Randy Pfister, assistant warden Marvin Reed and the three guards who allegedly killed Jenkins. The warden and assistant warden are accused of failing “to provide appropriate supervision, discipline, or training, or to take any action to prevent the repeated instances of excessive force.”

The Illinois Department of Corrections was contacted via email by Courthouse News Service for a reaction to the filing of the complaint, but did not respond.

Attorneys Sarah Grady, Russell Ainsworth, Arthur Loevy, Jonathan Loevy and Katherine Roche with the law firm of Loevy & Loevy in Chicago represent Ellis in the litigation. The case was transferred to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois in June 2017, where it remains pending. See: Ellis v. Pfister, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Ill.), Case No. 1:16-cv-09449; (C.D. Ill.), Case No. 1:17-cv-01254. 


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Related legal case

Ellis v. Pfister