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Coalition of attorneys seeks justice in western Illinois prisoner's death

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MOUNT STERLING — Civil rights attorneys are taking on the state of Illinois in the death of Western Illinois Correctional Center prisoner Larry Earvin, 65, who died of injuries suffered at the prison.

Former corrections officers Todd Sheffler of Mendon and Alex Banta of Quincy are facing trial in Earvin's death while former corrections officer Willie Hedden of Mount Sterling has pleaded guilty to federal civil rights charges in connection with Earvin's death.

Earvin was assaulted May 17, 2018, suffering multiple broken ribs, a punctured colon and other serious internal injuries. He was set to be released just months later after serving a six-year sentence related to a Cook County robbery, but he died June 26, 2018.

Chicago-based civil rights attorney Jon Erickson of Erickson & Oppenheimer LTD has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Earvin's family, claiming the three correctional officers killed Earvin and the state is not taking responsibility for the deaths.

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Erickson has reached out to Gov. J.B Pritzker, Attorney General Kwame Raoul, Lt. Gov. Julianna Stratton and members of the Legislative Black Caucus, asking that action be taken because the assault happened at a state facility in an "blind-spot" area where security cameras don't have access.

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"We've gotten no response" from state officials, Erickson said Thursday morning. "The governor is responsible for what happens behind those walls."

Erickson and the coalition of eight attorneys are fighting not only to raise awareness of beatings they say have happened at WICC, but also for financial compensation for the Earvin family. They also hope to shed light on what goes on in correctional facilities statewide, they said.

"It's the judge's job to decide what punishment someone gets," Erickson said. "It's not the job of the correctional officers to determine their punishment."

Not pursuing legal action against state leaders in Earvin's case sends the wrong message to corrections officers who might consider doling out their own punishment, Erickson said.

"We're sending the message to correctional officers to go ahead and abuse prisoners and that it's OK to do it," Erickson said.

"Mr. Earvin was brutally and viciously beaten to death by at least three cruel and savage employees of the Illinois Department of Corrections while countless others stood by and watched without doing anything, and yet the attorney general is hiding behind a technicality to deny justice to the Earvin family — he should be ashamed of himself," Erickson said during a news conference Wednesday in Chicago.

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Erickson also singled out Raoul in a letter to Pritzker, saying "the Illinois Attorney General has taken the position that, despite the fact that the misconduct here was clearly within the scope of the defendants' employment, because the defendants' conduct was intentional, willful and wanton, the state has no obligation to indemnify them in this civil action."

Sheffler, Banta and Hedden each received 228 days of paid administrative leave, totaling more than $132,000, Erickson said.

WICC opened in April 1989, has an operational capacity of 1,976, and is classified as a medium-security center for adult men.

Kwame's office had not returned calls requesting comment as of Thursday evening.


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