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$15,150 Paid by Illinois for Neglect and Harassment of Three State Prisoners

by David Reutter

Mistreatment of three prisoners held by the Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC) cost the state over $15,000 to settle their claims in separate agreements completed during 2021.

On August 12, 2021, a $5,000 payment was approved for prisoner Paul Lee, who accused guards at Pontiac Correctional Center of sexual harassment. While working in the prison kitchen on December 18, 2018, Lee said, Food Service Supervisor Paul Griffith “sexually abused” him in the food storage cooler by calling him “Felicia,” “bitch-ass,” and “bitch-ass P.C. Punk.”

Lee filed a complaint under the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), which should have been handled confidentially. But someone told Griffith, Lee said, after which the guard complained about it to other prisoners. Lee then filed a grievance against supervisor Kenyatta Orr for failing to handle his initial grievance in accordance with PREA standards.

A cover-up of the sexual harassment then allegedly ensued, morphing into retaliation as a result of an alleged assault on January 9, 2019, by Food Service Supervisor Susie Hobart. She and Griffith then allegedly conspired to have Lee terminated from his job.

After exhausting his administrative remedies, Lee, filed his handwritten civil rights complaint pro se on August 6, 2019. He agreed to accept $5,000 to resolve the suit on October 13, 2020, though it took DOC officials nearly ten months to approve the payment. See: Lee v. Griffith, USDC (C.D. Ill.), Case No. 1:19-cv-01277.

Earlier that same summer, on June 11, 2021, a payment of $5,650 was authorized to settle allegations by prisoner Donzell Lowe that he was subjected to such cold temperatures at Statesville Correctional Center that his health was adversely affected.

When shut off the heat in April 2015 – in in accordance with their policy that it operates only from October to April – Lowe who suffers from diabetes and heart problems, complained to prison officials and requested the heat be turned back on or that he be provided extra blankets. The officials promised action, but they took none.

Lowe’s health then began to rapidly deteriorate. By late in the day on April 15, 2015, he was vomiting, shaking uncontrollably, and unable to hold down food or water. Despite his condition, he was denied extra blankets and heat in his cell. A nurse passing out medication eight days later observed Lowe’s “sorry state and called for a medical technician,” his complaint recalled.

Lowe was transported to the Health Care Unit (HCU) and an IV was started. He was then transferred to an outside hospital to be treated for “dehydration, ketoacidosis, and kidney failure,” his complaint continued. The same day he went to the hospital, DOC ordered prison officials to turn on the heat again.

After exhausting his administrative remedies, Lowe filed his civil rights complaint, with the aid of attorney Michael J. Femal. The parties then proceeded to reach their agreement on May 4, 2021, and payment was approved the next month. See: Lowe v. Williams, USDC (N.D. Ill.), Case No. 1:16-cv-08274.

The month before that, on April 8, 2021, a $4,500 payment was authorized for prisoner Billy Woods, who cut his finger while working in the kitchen at Centralia Correctional Center and was then allegedly denied proper medical care, resulting in loss of the digit.

Woods was working in salad prep on September 9, 2017, when Dietary Supervisor Adam Dulle instructed him to operate the meat slicer, despite concerns Woods voiced about the machine’s missing wheel, which might offset its balance. Dulle said to not worry, it had been like that for some time without causing problems. But as Woods was cutting meat, the slicer jumped and cut the top portion of his finger.

Dulle sent Woods to HCU, where he was examined by nurse Anessa Shaw and two other nurses. They called Maj. Rose to request transfer to an outside hospital, but Rose denied them, saying the injury did not qualify for a medical furlough. Shaw simply bandaged Woods’ finger and sent him back to the kitchen.

There the finger began squirting blood, and Woods was escorted back to HCU. The wound was cleaned and rebandaged by nurse Emily Brewer. He was then sent to his housing area. Later that night, the finger again began bleeding uncontrollably. Woods was taken once more to HCU, but nothing was done; Brewer and other nurses said changing bandages would cause an infection.

Woods awoke the next morning with blood running down his arm. En route to HCU, Sgt. Boyle stopped him and asked about his finger. Boyle called Maj. MacAbee, the shift commander, who called the warden. Director of Nurses Jessica Knebel then rushed to the prison and examined the injury, determining emergency medical care was needed. Woods was finally taken to an outside hospital.

After exhausting his administrative remedies, Woods filed his pro se civil rights complaint on May 25, 2018, accusing the nurses of carelessness. Shaw, he alleged, threw his “finger in the trash like it was garbage.” He agreed to the settlement on March 30, 2021, and payment was authorized the next month. See: Woods v. Rose, USDC (S.D. Ill.), Case No. 3:18-cv-1161.

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Related legal cases

Lee v. Griffith

Lowe v. Williams

Woods v. Rose