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$6,500 Paid by Illinois DOC to Settle Three Prisoner’s Mistreatment Claims

by David M. Reutter

Proving that even a small victory is still a victory, a trio of Illinois prisoners accepted a total of $6,500 to settle separate claims they were mistreated while in custody of the state Department of Corrections (DOC).

The largest payout was agreed to on June 30, 2021, giving $3,500 to Samuel Span, a mentally ill prisoner guards left shackled for two days at Pontiac Correctional Center (CC). With a history of schizophrenia, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, hallucinations, antisocial personality disorder, and bipolar disorder, Span saw mental health employee Kayleigh Ortega on October 2, 2017, and told her that he may have to “defend” himself against security staff. Ortega ordered Span placed on “ten minute suicide watch.”

He was stripped naked, put in a suicide smock, restrained and placed in a cell with no mattress, though he was given a suicide blanket. He was left in leg shackles, which weren’t removed for two days, causing Span’s legs to swell and develop lacerations. The cell lights remained on, too. He was forced to sleep on the concrete floor, with guards waking him up every ten minutes, causing hallucinations. He alleged he “shut down” mentally as a result and could not verbally communicate.

Span was finally released from suicide watch on October 30, 2017. His handwritten civil rights complaint was filed pro se in federal court for the Central District of Illinois on November 15, 2018, leading eventually to the settlement. See: Span v. Ortega, USDC (C.D. Ill.), Case No. 18-cv-01078.

Before that, on February 9, 2021, Robinson CC prisoner Billy Muston accepted $2,000 from DOC after a nurse with the prison’s privately contracted health care provider allegedly treated his seizure with smelling salts.

The incident occurred on June 27, 2018, when Muston had a seizure and was found on his cell floor by another prisoner, who alerted a guard. Three staffers employed by Wexford Health Sources responded and took him to the medical unit. But they were interrupted by Charge Nurse Lynn Chattic, with whom Muston “had many altercations and friction between one another,” according to the complaint he later filed.

After Chattic ordered the other staffers from the room — and apparently believing Muston was faking his symptoms — she put smelling salts up his nose and covered his mouth with her other hand. Muston then came out of his seizure with his mouth and nose burning.

His civil rights complaint was filed pro se in federal court for the Northern District of Illinois on July 24, 2019. After that he was appointed counsel, William E. Gottfred from Reese & Reese in Rockford, later replaced by attorneys from Taxman, Pollock, Murray & Bekkerman LLC in Chicago, who aided him in negotiating the settlement. See: Muston v. Chattic, USDC (N.D. Ill.), Case No. 19-cv-50172.

The month before that settlement, on January 18, 2021, DOC paid $1,000 to Stateville CC prisoner Willie Clay, who was left in a cell with a broken toilet and no toilet paper on March 30, 2016. Clay filed a grievance with then-Warden Randy Pfister, but he got no response. He also spoke about the matter to a guard, Sgt. Michael Johnson, at 8:26 p.m. on April 3, 2016. The toilet was fixed around 10:00 a.m. the following morning, on Clay’s sixth day in the cell.

In the complaint he then filed — in the same court as Muston — Clay alleged his toilet would not flush; it would only back up onto the floor. It was also full of feces and swarming with bugs. Overflows happened three or four times, and Clay and his cellmate had to clean them up.

 The Court granted Johnson summary judgment but allowed a claim of unconstitutional conditions of confinement to proceed against Pfister, leading to the eventual settlement. Clay was aided in those negotiations by attorney James Robinson with Connolly Krause LLC in Chicago.  See: Clay v. Pfister, USDC (N.D. Ill.), Case No. 16-cv-05748.

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Related legal cases

Clay v. Pfister

Muston v. Chattic

Span v. Ortega