Illinois inmate and convicted murder Osbaldo Jose-Nicholas was awarded close to a quarter-million dollars in an excessive force lawsuit against prison guards.
The St.-Louis Post Dispatch reports that last week’s verdict included $1,000 in compensatory damages for Nicholas and $251,000 in punitive damages against prison employees.
Jose-Nicholas, writes the Dispatch, says he was brutalized partway through his incarceration. Guards purportedly handcuffed close to a wall, punching and kicking him until he lost consciousness. The inmate says his head was repeatedly bashed into a concrete fixture.
Other guards who didn’t participate in the assault allegedly watched from afar, refusing or unwilling to intervene.
One he came back to his sense, Jose-Nicholas says his medical complaints were largely ignored by the facility’s medical staff.
“I would hope that the Illinois Department of Corrections would take a long hard look at this jury’s verdict and finding that these officers intentionally used excessive force and consider imposing appropriate sanctions,” said Sarah Grady, one of the convict’s lawyers.
Jurors ruled in favor of Jose-Nicholas against guards Justin Snell, William Qualls and Nathan Berry. A medical technician, Aimee Lang, was also found culpable by the jury.
Grady says each of the three guards has been promoted since the incident, which took place several years ago.
Even taking that into consideration, Grady says the outcome isn’t typical. The case was initiated by Jose-Nicholas, who filed it in handwriting in 2015. Grady and her firm, Loevy & Loevy, were appointed to take up the suit from Chicago.
Grady estimates that fewer than one percent of prisoners filing such suits wind up winning in trial, ‘due to their lack of legal education, procedural hurdles and their inability to interview witnesses from behind bars.’
“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 came out of their pockets,” said Grady.
At trial, the prison employees who perpetrated the assault against Jose-Nicholas apparently came up with a series of ‘unbelievable’ excuses for the inmate’s injuries. Cellhouse sergeant William Qualls told the judge and jury that the 33-year old inmate had ‘fallen on some ice.’
Qualls was eventually deemed liable for the excessive forced used on Jose-Nicholas, while Lang was accused of failing to properly inspect or treat his injuries.
The suit contains some political elements, too. In light of the Trump administration’s campaign against illegal immigration, it’s notable that Jose-Nicholas, a Mexican national, never obtained permission to legally reside in the United States.
No matter his history, Grady says it’s best to consider the prevailing set of circumstances.
“No one’s asking you to like him as a person,” Grady said, but “being beaten senselessly is not part of the sentence and that’s what the Eighth Amendment is all about.”