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Illinois Jail Detainee Dies, Lawsuit Settles for $2.2 Million

by Ed Lyon

Hoopeston, Illinois citizen Richard J. Gonzalez was convicted of a non-violent felony for theft of $3,000 from an ATM machine. He was detained at the Ford County jail on May 15, 2012, pending a transfer to prison to begin serving a four-year sentence.

On May 18, Gonzalez told jailers he was experiencing chest pains. Later, he passed out and fell to the floor, fracturing his right scapula. Paramedics were called and took him to a hospital for treatment. Their run notes indicated that he was “confused, pale, diaphoretic and anxious.” He returned to the jail with his arm in a sling, and the hospital prescribed and supplied medications.

Gonzalez was assigned to a cell requiring jailers to visually check on him every 15 minutes. His condition worsened. On the evening of May 22, guards found him on the floor, in pain and moving as if he was having a seizure, losing and regaining consciousness and incapable of directed, voluntary movement.

The jailers responded by moving Gonzalez to a padded cell in a different area. Visual checks were only required every 30 minutes in that area, but video surveillance covered that part of the jail – when the cameras worked.

Gonzalez’s body was discovered around 3:50 a.m. on May 23, 2012. His body was stiff, indicating the onset of rigor mortis. It was also discolored, indicating he had lain in the same position long enough for his blood to pool in the lowest parts, causing livor mortis.

County coroner Doug Wallace determined that Gonzalez’s death was caused by cardiac arrhythmia, aggravated by trauma due to the fractured scapula.

Attorneys Janine L. Hoft and Jan Susler with the People’s Law Office in Chicago filed a federal civil rights suit with a pendant state claim on behalf of Gonzalez’s surviving family members. The pleadings outlined a cover-up by jailers after they discovered Gonzalez’s body and realized he had been dead for hours since they had last performed a cell check. [See: PLN, June 2016, p.34].

The Illinois state police investigated Gonzalez’s death and the circumstances under which it occurred. After uncovering the guards’ lies and falsifications of visual inspection logs, investigators recommended criminal prosecution. Special prosecutor Ed Parkinson declined to file charges against the jailers even though Hoft provided additional inculpatory facts and information obtained during the course of the wrongful death suit.

Ford County agreed to settle the case for $2.2 million in June 2019, while it was on appeal after the district court denied the county’s motion for summary judgment. The settlement will be distributed in annuity payments to Gonzalez’s three minor children, beginning on each of their 18th birthdays. See: Estate of Gonzalez v. Ford County, U.S.D.C. (C.D. IL), Case No. 2:13-cv-02115-CSB-EIL. 


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Related legal case

Estate of Gonzalez v. Ford County