Lawsuit: Disabled man was killed by inmate in overcrowded Cahokia jail cell

News-DemocratSeptember 10, 2013 

A federal lawsuit alleges Cahokia jailers failed to protect a defenseless man killed by a dangerous felon in a crowded cell, according to court documents.

Mark E. Luster, 42, of Cahokia, is charged with killing Timothy Johnson, 25, of Granite City, while the two were inmates at the Cahokia jail. The federal suit alleges jailers placed Johnson, Luster and another inmate in a two-person cell at the Cahokia jail on May 12, 2012, then ignored Luster's threats to harm his fellow inmates.

Johnson, who suffered from cerebral palsy, was found beaten and strangled on May 13, 2012. Court-appointed administrators of his estate, Beverly Hills and Eddie Ricks, seek more than $1 million from the Village of Cahokia and 11 law enforcement officers.

Cahokia officials could not be reached for comment. The attorney for the estate administrators, David Cates with the law firm Cates Mahoney in Swansea, could not be reached for comment.

Attorneys representing the village say jailers were "neither the cause in fact nor the legal cause of Mr. Johnson's death" and state law grants the village "absolute immunity from liability for claims arising out of any inadequacy in jail ... operations," according to court documents.

Johnson was arrested on May 12 on suspicion of stealing a motorized cart from a Walmart next to his home, according to court documents. Due to his disability, Johnson needed crutches to walk.

Johnson was placed in the cell at about 6:17 p.m., Luster was placed in the cell a few minutes later. A third inmate joined the two at about 9:26 p.m.

At some point, Johnson tried to get the attention of guards to help the third inmate who was having asthma-related health issues. Luster allegedly became angry with Johnson for requesting help, then killed him in the cell.

Prior to Johnson's death, Luster allegedly told jailers he intended to hurt his cellmates, according to court documents. Luster has faced a litany of criminal charges since 1989, according to St. Clair County court records. He has been convicted of aggravated assault, theft, burglary and battery charges.

The lawsuit alleges Cahokia jailers were responsible because they knew Luster's "propensity for physical violence, his communicated threat that he would become violent towards Timothy Johnson. ... Johnson was disabled and unable to defend himself."

The cameras monitoring the cell were not working and jailers did not perform any well-being checks on the inmates on May 13, according to court documents.

A related civil lawsuit had been filed with the St. Clair County Circuit Court, but was transferred to federal court on Friday.

Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at dkelley@bnd.com or 618-239-2501.

Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at dkelley@bnd.com or 618-239-2501.

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