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Illinois Federal Jury Awards Prisoner $252,100 
for Beating and Denial of Medical Care

by Ed Lyon

During the noon meal on February 5, 2014, Illinois prison guard Nathan Berry found alcohol and an altered TV in a property box in a cell shared by Osbaldo Jose-Nicolas and Edgar Diaz at the Menard Correctional Center.

Both prisoners were directed to a holding cell when they returned from lunch. When Jose-Nicolas answered a question from a passing prisoner, he and Diaz were handcuffed behind their backs. Diaz, then Jose-Nicolas, were led out of the cell. Lt. William Qualls struck Jose-Nicolas on his jaw, knocking him to the ground. Another guard picked him up and told Qualls to “take it out of the hallway.”

Berry and Qualls dragged Jose-Nicolas to a shower, slammed his head into a wall, then savagely beat and kicked him until he lost consciousness. Guard Matthew Purdom and Sgt. Justin Snell witnessed the brutal assault but did nothing to stop it.

When Jose-Nicolas came to, Berry dragged him from the cellhouse to segregation.

A tower guard told Qualls to take Jose-Nicolas to medical because he was unable to walk on his own. Qualls refused, instead taking Jose-Nicolas to another cellhouse, where he was seen by medical technician Aimee Lang. Lang refused to treat Jose-Nicolas or refer him to a doctor for evaluation and treatment, and reportedly laughed at his injuries.

Jose-Nicolas was then taken to segregation.

Two days later he spoke to a nurse, who prescribed Tylenol and an ice pack for his jaw, noted his facial injuries and referred him to a dentist. The dentist said his jaw would eventually heal and prescribed a soft diet. Three weeks later, Jose-Nicolas spoke to the same nurse and showed her his abdominal injuries. She documented them and referred him to Dr. John Trost, who said they were not hernias and ordered no tests. Jose-Nicolas said he still suffers pain in his jaw and abdomen.

At Jose-Nicolas’ disciplinary hearing on February 10, 2014, prison guard Jason Hart and shift supervisor Robert Hughes denied him the right to call witnesses, denied an interpreter (Nicolas is a Mexican citizen whose primary language is Spanish), and found him guilty of possessing alcohol and a contraband television even though the TV had a different serial number than his and the property box containing the TV had another prisoner’s number on it.

Jose-Nicolas served six months in a filthy disciplinary segregation cell with no cleaning materials, rampant mold and a toilet that leaked feces and urine onto the floor.

Attorney Sarah Grady with the Chicago law firm of Loevy & Loevy represented Jose-Nicolas in a lawsuit that went to a jury trial in August 2018. The jury found in Jose-Nicolas’ favor, awarding him $1,000 in compensatory damages and $200,000 in punitive damages against Qualls, plus $1,000 against Berry, $100 against Snell and $50,000 against Lang. Jose-Nicolas’ attorneys filed a motion with the district court on October 26, 2018 seeking $166,475.75 in fees and costs, which remains pending. See: Jose-Nicolas v. Berry, U.S.D.C. (S.D. Ill), Case No. 3:15-cv-00964-NJR-DGW.

“I would hope that the Illinois Department of Corrections would take a long hard look at this jury’s verdict and finding that these officers intentionally used excessive force and consider imposing appropriate sanctions,” Grady stated.

Jose-Nicolas, serving a 45-year sentence for murder, filed his hand-written lawsuit pro se before Loevy & Loevy was appointed to represent him. 


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Related legal case

Jose-Nicolas v. Berry