EAST ST. LOUIS, IL — In a verdict virtually without precedent in Illinois, late yesterday a federal jury found three prison guards and a Department of Corrections nurse personally liable for over $250,000 in punitive damages for an incident in which a handcuffed prisoner at Menard Correctional Center was beaten up and denied access to medical care.
While penalties against the State are not uncommon in which state employees violate people’s rights, civil penalties tabulated personally against the prison guards and nurses themselves are rare, and attorneys say this is one of the largest such verdicts in the state’s history.
“What makes this verdict particularly sting for the prison employees is that under Illinois statutes, the State is forbidden to compensate them for verdict awards that come out of their pockets,” said Sarah Grady, an attorney at Loevy & Loevy Attorneys at Law.
According to the suit, Osbaldo Nicolas was attacked and beaten by Defendant William Qualls, the sergeant of the cellhouse where Nicolas was housed. While he was handcuffed, Qualls punched Nicolas in the head, smashed his head into a concrete wall, and kicked him in the torso and legs until he fell unconscious. Defendants Nathan Berry and Justin Snell watched Qualls beat Nicolas and did nothing to stop the attack. Afterward, Nicolas saw Defendant Aimee Lang, who failed to examine or treat his injuries. At trial, Qualls concocted an absurd tale that Nicolas had gotten injured when he slipped and fell on some ice.
Ultimately the jury found that Qualls had used excessive force on Nicolas, and awarded Nicolas $200,000 in punitive damages. The jury also found that Berry and Snell had failed to intervene, and awarded compensatory and punitive damages against them as well. Finally, the jury found that Lang failed to provide Nicolas adequate medical care and awarded $50,000 in punitive damages for her misconduct.
In addition to Ms. Grady, Mr. Nicolas is represented by Julie Goodwin and Adair Crosley, also of Loevy & Loevy Attorneys at Law, one of the nation’s largest civil rights law firms. Over the past decade, Loevy & Loevy has won more multi-million-dollar jury verdicts than any other civil rights law firm in the country. A copy of the suit, Osbaldo Jose-Nicolas v. Nathan Berry, et al, No. 15 C 0964, is available here.