First reported by The Associated Press: the death of an inmate following an “altercation with correctional staff” at Western Illinois Correctional Center on May 17th has been ruled a homicide, according to an autopsy report provided after a Freedom of Information Act request.
65-year-old Larry Earvin died from blunt trauma to the chest and abdomen, according to the death certificate from Clinton County in southern Illinois, which also reports Earvin had 15 rib fractures and two dozen or more abrasions, hemorrhages and lacerations. The report also says surgery to remove a portion of his bowel appears to have followed the injury,.
The FBI is investigating the May 17 incident at the prison in Mount Sterling. Illinois Department of Corrections officials declined to disclose details of the altercation.
At least four Western Illinois employees were placed on administrative leave WITH pay on May 22, according to documents provided after the FOIA request. Suspended for allegedly violating conduct standards were correctional sergeant Willie Hedden of Mount Sterling; correctional lieutenants Benjamin Burnett of Winchester and Blake Haubrich of Quincy; and correctional officer Alex Banta of Quincy.
Earvin was sentenced in 2015 to six years in prison for theft of merchandise under $300 in Cook County. A spokesperson for the Department of Corrections -Lindsey Hess- said in July that Earvin was apparently to be released in September. After the incident, however, he was airlifted to a regional hospital. Earvin died on June 26th at Centralia Correctional Center, according to the death certificate signed by Clinton County Coroner Phillip Moss.
In addition to the broken ribs and multiple abrasions which showed signs of healing at the time of death, Earvin had pneumonia, a tracheostomy tube and a chest tube to drain fluids, all associated with chest trauma, according to Norfleet’s findings. Under the heading “blunt abdominal trauma,” the report says that a portion of Earvin’s colon had been removed surgically and an ileostomy bag installed for waste removal.
Documents show Hedden, Burnett, Haubrich and Banta were placed on administrative leave for “violations of standards of conduct pending investigation”. Hess would not confirm the status of the officers, or whether their suspensions were connected to the Earvin incident. But in response to the AP request for their disciplinary records, the DOC indicated withholding relevant documents was needed because the “FBI is the primary investigative agency in this matter and has determined that releasing these records would jeopardize the investigation.”
The corrections department initially said it didn’t have any documents related to the incident. It denied AP’s first request for records in July, and when the news organization appealed to the attorney general’s public access counselor, the department responded that it had turned everything in its possession over to the FBI , and didn’t even have copies of its own investigative reports. It later acknowledged it had found copies. The counselor ruled last week that the department had not fully complied with the Freedom of Information Act.