Updated at 4:56 p.m.
Three prison guards from the Western Illinois Correctional Center are facing federal criminal charges for allegedly beating a prisoner in handcuffs in May 2018 and filing false reports to cover up their actions.
Larry Earvin, 65, died a little more than a month after the assault from his injuries.
According to a federal indictment filed this week, Todd Sheffler, 51, of Mendon; Willie Hedden, 41, of Mt. Sterling; and Alex Banta, 28, of Quincy, assaulted Earvin “without legal justification while he was restrained and handcuffed behind his back and while he posed no physical threat to the defendants or other correctional officers.”
The indictment also alleges that the guards falsified reports about the incident and misled state police when they denied they had any knowledge of the assault.
Earvin had 15 rib fractures, multiple abrasions and hemorrhages and died from blunt trauma to the chest and abdomen in June 2018. The coroner ruled his death a homicide, as first reported by WBEZ.
“Our laws protect the civil rights of all,” the U.S. attorney in Illinois’ Central District, John Milhiser, said in a written statement. “Every day, correctional officers report for public service that is often demanding and under-appreciated. However, our criminal justice system requires that those who perform these difficult duties do so lawfully. Those responsible for the deadly assault of Mr. Earvin must be held accountable.”
Larry Earvin lived with schizophrenia, according to his family, and was homeless at the time of his arrest. According to a police report, he stole watches from a hospital gift shop and then attempted to sell them on the street to a woman. He and the woman agreed on a price—$11—and as she was handing over the cash, he “forcibly grabbed the money and the victims left hand while also smacking away the victim's right hand.” He was convicted of robbery and died just a few months before his scheduled release.
Before Earvin’s death, an independent prison watchdog group had flagged major concerns with staff conduct at the western Illinois prison. A 2017 report from the John Howard Association said “several inmates reported that correctional officers who assault inmates wrongly accused the inmate of ‘resisting’ to justify use of force. Inmates stated areas reportedly lacking camera coverage were areas where such staff on inmate assaults occurred.” The report also said some prisoners said guards were discriminatory toward the elderly and disabled and used racist language.
An attorney for Todd Sheffler said his client emphatically denies the allegations and maintains his innocence. Attorneys for the other two accused correctional officers did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Shannon Heffernan is a criminal justice reporter at WBEZ. Follow her @shannon_h