Three Illinois prison guards have been fired and indicted on federal charges for the fatal beating of a handcuffed prisoner. On May 17, 2018, Western Illinois Correctional center guards Lt. Todd Sheffler, 51, Sgt. Willie Hedden, 41, and Alex Banta, 28, were escorting prisoner Larry Earvin, 65, from a residential unit to a security housing unit. During the prisoner transport, Earvin was restrained handcuffed behind his back. He posed no physical threat to the guards.
According to a federal indictment, the guards began beating Earvin without legal justification. Neither of Banta’s superiors, Sheffler and Hedden, intervened to protect Earvin. He suffered multiple broken ribs, a punctured colon, and other serious internal injuries. He died a few weeks later. Earvin was just weeks away from release, instead he died in custody.
After the beating, the guards allegedly filed separate false reports that failed to mention the assault, but described Earvin as resisting the escort and refusing to walk. It was reported he was simply delivered to the security housing unit “without further incident.” In an initial investigation by the Illinois State Police (ISP), the guards denied any knowledge of the assault. Hedden also allegedly persuaded a friend, another employee at the prison, to delete a text message Hedden sent him after the assault with the intent of concealing or destroying evidence.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was called in to investigate the assault. A federal indictment was returned charging Sheffler, Hedden, and Banta each with conspiracy to deprive a prisoner of civil rights under color of state law, deprive a prisoner of civil rights under color of state law, and obstruction of justice. Hedden was also charged with one count of destruction of a record.
Depriving a prisoner of civil rights under color of state law and conspiracy to do so each carry a potential sentence of any term up to life imprisonment. Obstruction of justice carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The sentences can be made consecutive and federal prisoners are required to serve at least 85% of their sentences before becoming eligible for release under current law.
In March 2021, Hedden accepted a plea agreement, which included his agreement to cooperate with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. At the time of print, Banta and Sheffler are still awaiting trial.
“Our law protects the civil rights of all,” said U.S. Attorney John Milhiser. “Every day, correctional officers report for public service that is often demanding and under-appreciated. However, our criminal justice system requires that those who perform these difficult duties do so lawfully. Those responsible for the deadly assault of Mr. Earvin must be held accountable.”
Sources: myjournalcourier.com; U.S. Attorney’s Office, Central District of Illinois press release dated 12/6/19
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