CHICAGO — A mentally ill inmate at Pontiac Correctional Center will be allowed to move forward with his federal claims against two doctors he accuses of sending him to segregation in retaliation for making complaints against prison staff.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit ruled Tuesday that U.S. District Court Judge Michael Mihm erred when he dismissed inmate Ashoor Rasho’s claims against Dr. Michael Massa and Dr. John Garlick in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois.
Rasho, who was an inmate in a class-action case that prompted sweeping court-ordered changes to how mental illness is handled in the Illinois prison system, was sent to state prison in 1996 for eight years in a Cook County burglary case. A 25-year term was added to his sentence for battery against correctional officers, and he is scheduled to be released in 2019.
In 2004, Rasho was transferred to Pontiac's mental health unit for treatment for his serious mental health disorders. He stayed there until 2006 when Massa recommended his transfer to the segregation unit, according to court records.
Massa did not believe Rasho was benefiting from his time in the unit and that his symptoms of antisocial personality disorder put others in the unit at risk, said the ruling. Garlick concurred with Massa's opinion, according to records.
Rasho challenged the doctors' opinion in court, noting that prison doctors continued to prescribe psychotropic medications for him after he was housed in segregation.
In his dismissal of Rasho's claim Mihm found it unlikely that the inmate could provide sufficient evidence of physical harm as a result of segregation.
"But Rasho did present evidence of at least one undisputed incident of self-mutilation" after he left the treatment unit, said the appeals court. Rasho argues he was denied adequate treatment for about 20 months in segregation.
The 7th Circuit judges agreed with Mihm's decision to dismiss claims against Pontiac's former warden, Eddie Jones, and two other doctors.
The Department of Corrections was unavailable to comment on the ruling.
In a statement on the ruling, Rasho’s lawyer Alan Mills with the Uptown People’s Law Center noted an opinion from expert witness Dr. Joel Silverberg that “inmates in the North Segregation Unit were isolated and treated like animals.”
The recent ruling “establishes important protections for prisoners who are being mistreated — they should not fear retaliation when they complain about their treatment,” said Mills.
Rasho was the first inmate named in a 2007 federal lawsuit that became a class action with 11,000 mentally ill inmates before it was resolved in 2016. Mihm presided over the lawsuit that resulted in a court order mandating a massive overhaul of prison mental health services, including construction of four new mental health treatment units and employment of hundreds of new staff to handle the expanded inmate services.
Follow Edith Brady-Lunny on Twitter: @pg_blunny