Third Illinois Guard Found Guilty In Fatal Beating of Handcuffed State Prisoner, but Attorney General Refuses To Settle With Family
by Matt Clarke
On August 23, 2022, a jury convicted the last of three ex-prison guards indicted in the fatal beating of a prisoner at Western Illinois Correctional Center (WICC) four years earlier.
Former Lt. Todd Sheffler, 54, was found guilty of conspiracy to deprive civil rights, tampering with a witness, destruction or falsification of records, and intimidation or force against a witness, as well as deprivation of civil rights in the death of prisoner Larry Earvin. Earlier, on April 5, 2022, a jury found fellow guard Alex Banta guilty of similar charges in Earvin’s death. A third former guard, Willie Hedden, 43, pleaded guilty on March 9, 2021, to conspiracy to deprive civil rights and deprivation of civil rights under color of law resulting in bodily injury and death. Hedden cooperated with prosecutors trying the other defendants. See: USA v. Sheffler, USDC (C.D.Ill.), Case No. 3:19-cr-30067.
On May 17, 2018, the three guards responded to an altercation between fellow guards and Earvin, 65, a schizophrenic who had been homeless at the time of his 2015 arrest for burglary. The prisoner had been pepper-sprayed and was handcuffed behind his back when the three led him to an area out of sight of surveillance cameras and beat him. Earvin suffered rib fractures, abrasions, hemorrhages, and fatal blunt trauma to the chest and abdomen, according to the indictment unsealed against the guards. He died of his injuries on June 26, 2018.
After the beating, the guards tried to cover it up. The three filed separate reports claiming Earvin resisted their escort and refused to walk, and all three failed to mention the beating. In fact, they said he was delivered to the security housing unit “without further incident.” They also lied to the Illinois State Police who investigated the killing, denying any knowledge of the beating. Hedden even persuaded a friend to delete an incriminating text message.
Aided by attorneys from Erickson & Oppenheimer Ltd. in Chicago and Bakos & Maisuria Law Group LLC in Naperville, as well as Chicago’s Sam Adam Jr. Civil Rights Commission, Earvin’s family filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court for the Central District of Illinois against the three guards, plus a fourth WICC guard who was not indicted, Lt. Blake Haubrich, as well as WICC Warden Cameron Watson and Assistant Warden Steve Snyder. In addition to the fatal beating of Earvin, the complaint alleged Watson and Snyder knew that guards routinely used unjustified extreme violence against WICC prisoners and did nothing to change that culture.
In a June 2021 press conference, one of the family’s attorneys, Jon Erickson, accused state Attorney General Kwame Raoul (D) of hiding behind an “arcane loophole” in the law to avoid compensating the family. Erickson said the State Employee Indemnification Act gives the attorney general the discretion to compensate families in such cases, and he added that he has tried to negotiate a settlement. But he said Raoul’s office has acted disinterested.
“The state can’t have it both ways,” said Erickson. “You can’t call for accountability out of one side of your mouth and not give accountability when there is a brutal murder that has occurred by state employees who were working on the job.”
Erickson noted that the three convicted guards each received 228 days of paid administrative leave worth a total of over $132,000 and that Haubrich was then still on paid administrative leave. Further, the state buried Earvin in an unmarked southern Illinois grave without notifying his family.
“Even in death, this administration took away Mr. Earvin’s humanity, took away his family’s ability to mourn and bury him in a decent and humane way,” said Erickson. “They are acting as if Mr. Earvin and his family don’t matter. And they’re doing it because of money.”
The case remains open, and PLN will report developments as they are available. See: Pippion v. Hedden, USDC (C.D. Ill.), Case No. 3:19-cv-03010.
Additional source: Chicago Tribune
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Related legal cases
USA v. Sheffler
|USDC (C.D.Ill.), Case No. 3:19-cr-30067
Pippion v. Hedden
|USDC (C.D. Ill.), Case No. 3:19-cv-03010