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Members of the Orange Crush prison guards in formation

“Mainstream media seem more interested in covering crime committed by Black people rather than what happens to them afterward,” says attorney Alan Mills of the Uptown People’s Law Center, the lead attorney representing incarcerated plaintiffs in a class action suit against the Illinois Department of Corrections.

Attorney Mills’ response was candid and straight to the point when asked: “Why hasn’t the public heard much about this disturbing lawsuit?” The suit in question was filed March 19, 2015. In the class-action suit brought on behalf of Demetrius Ross and “others similarly situated,” plaintiffs allege that in late April 2014, that members of the “Orange Crush” – defendants and security personnel – conducted a “shakedown of cells at Illinois River Correctional Center.”

Further, “the defendants, for the sole purpose of humiliation, and needless pain abused Ross by beating him and sexually abusing him and hundreds of other prisoners.” “For example,” as the lawsuit goes into the narrative of alleged abuse “Mr. Ross and other prisoners were subject to: a humiliating strip search in front of female officers and orders to prisoners to touch their genitals and then use the same hand to open their mouths; painfully tight handcuffing with their palms outward; orders to march from their housing units to the gym at the facility with their heads on the backs of the prisoner ahead of them in line so that one man’s genitals were in direct contact with the next man’s buttocks – referred to by the Orange Crush team as “nuts to butts.”

In addition: “violent attacks by Defendant Orange Crush when prisoners broke that formation, and orders to stand in a stress position for several hours. Throughout the entire shakedown, Defendant Orange Crush Officers hurled epithets at the prisoners, chanted ‘punish the inmate’ and told them that this was punishment for their sins,” according to the suit.

However, attorney Mills said these shakedowns were common occurrences within IDOC, and the suit levies accusations against similar circumstances happening at Menard, Big Muddy River and Lawrence Correctional Centers. The lawsuit names Gregg Gossett, Zach Roeckman and Stephen Duncan as the wardens at the three prisons, respectively, that supervised the shakedowns under color of law and within the scope of their employment at IDOC.

Also named are defendants Joseph Yurkovich, listed as the Chief of Operations for IDOC and “responsible for the supervision of all . . . Orange Crush units and the implementation, oversight and supervision of policies and practices executed by Orange Crush members.” The IDOC acting director, Donald Stolworthy is also named in his official capacity.

Lending credence to the suit are other complaints brought to the attention of the Chicago Defender by attorney Demitrus Evans, of TEIL Firms LLC, and the Evans Exoneration Project, which have received 30 letters from prisoners at Statesville asserting similar circumstances in January and July 2016 regarding shakedowns by Orange Crush. Although not part of the aforementioned suit, one four-page letter in particular, written by Inmate X, who desires to remain anonymous details the horrific treatment at the hands of this unit.

Allegedly, on July 5, 2016, an altercation occurred between a documented mentally ill prisoner, Donald Haywood, and a Stateville correctional officer. Several days later, on July 11, around 7:45 a.m., unit E where Haywood was housed had its water shut off, the letter states.

By 11:45 a.m., Orange Crush had entered gallery 3, where Inmate X was located, and strip searched him and others on his floor, handcuffed them with thumbs up behind their backs and marched them heads down to a very hot dining room with all the windows closed and no fan or air conditioning. After being seated in the dining room “Stateville tactical officer  ‘Medin’ told us all that his superiors had ordered that no one will be allowed to use the restroom and are to remain cuffed to the back in our seats for the duration of the shakedown,” says Inmate X.

Several hours later, inmate X says, he was in pain from the handcuffs and was forced to urinate on himself while other inmates passed out from the heat. Says attorney Evans: “As a result of the heat and lack of access to the restroom, inmates suffered dehydration, which led to medical complications,” and “the men forced to sit in the heat chained together, urinated and defecated on themselves and each other.”

“The purpose of the shakedown was allegedly to acquire contraband from the prisoners,” she says.  “However, no contraband was found.” The real reason given by some of the inmates for the retaliation is due to the actions of Donald Haywood, who is documented as being mentally ill. Nevertheless, Haywood was being harassed by a guard nicknamed “Pain.” Haywood had mentioned the antagonizing behavior of Pain to his psychiatrist and internal affairs, all to no avail, according to Evans. After months of taunting, Haywood snapped, but it was the Pain who reported the attack as being provoked by Haywood.

“By all accounts, the guard had been seen and documented to have abused the inmate time and time again. After this incident, Orange Crush was called. . . and the target were Black men. One of the inmates who told them that “Black Lives Matter” was strip searched, beaten and sodomized before being moved to another prison,” says Evans.

Many inmates have filed grievances, but the review process can take up to a year and inmates often feel as though no one is listening to them, she says. Attorney Evans has written letters to Gov. Bruce Rauner, senators Mark Kirk and Dick Durbin. So far, only Durbin has responded, stating in part, “We realize that this matter is of great importance to you, and that you would like your concerns investigated. Please understand, however, that our office does not conduct investigations of any kind.”

Attorney Evans said that she spoke to a recently released Stateville inmate. “He indicated that the Orange Crush tactical team is not new to the prison. He said that the system is always the same and that although they do things that are out of order, the administration looks the other way. Because when there is a problem like a riot they must call Orange Crush. He indicated that because of this, they need to be regulated, possibly to have body cameras.”

Freedom of Information Act documents released to the Chicago Defender indicate that there have been, year-to-date partial and/or full lockdown days at the following Illinois state prisons: Illinois River (5), Menard (31), Lawrence (19), and Stateville (39) days. Stay tuned as we follow this developing story.

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