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Illinois Pays $450,000 to Prisoner Who was Raped, Punished for Reporting It

by Lonnie Burton

An Illinois State prisoner who was raped agreed to settle his lawsuit against Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) officials who punished him for reporting the sexual assault. The $450,000 payout was one of the largest in state history for a prison retaliation case.

In August 2011, James Fontano, 20, was beaten and raped by his much-larger cellmate at the Logan Correctional Center. Fontano, described as young, white and of slight size, was forced to share a cell with Quentin Robinson, “an imposing 185-pound violent offender and known Gangster Disciple affiliate” who was serving a 20-year sentence for violent crimes. Fontano was a first-time offender serving an eight-month sentence for a parole violation.

When Fontano reported the sexual assault, Logan officials apparently didn’t believe him and placed him in segregation, where he had to serve the remainder of his sentence.

“The response of prison officials to James Fontano in this case is a model of what not to do. Instead of concern, James was met with derision and disbelief,” stated Locke E. Bowman, one of Fontano’s attorneys and executive director of the Mac­Arthur Justice Center. “The investigation was meant to cover up the rape, not to hold the perpetrator accountable.”

Fontano sued several IDOC officials following his release from prison, including former Logan warden Alex Dawson and former IDOC investigator Kevin Standley. It was Standley, according to the lawsuit, who ordered Fontano’s punishment after he reported being raped. Fontano’s case got a huge credibility boost when Robinson’s DNA was later found on his underwear.

“This settlement should serve to motivate IDOC to change its practices,” said Sheila Bedi, an attorney with the MacArthur Justice Center. “IDOC needs to do all it can to end sexual assaults behind bars.”

An IDOC spokesman said they had created and implemented new policies and conducted specialized Prison Rape Elimination Act training for all medical, mental health and investigative staff. Further, the spokesman indicated all IDOC facilities are now PREA compliant.

The parties agreed to settle the case in July 2016 during a jury trial, and the $450,000 settlement was finalized on September 1, 2016. Fontano was represented by the Uptown People’s Law Center and the MacArthur Justice Center at the Northwestern University School of Law. See: Fontano v. Godinez, U.S.D.C. (C.D. Ill.), Case No. 3:12-cv-03042-SEM-TSH. 


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Related legal case

Fontano v. Godinez