Three former St. Clair County Jail inmates have received up to $2,000 apiece from the county to settle federal lawsuits alleging they were beaten by guards.
Sheriff Rick Watson said there was no merit to the allegations and the county settled the suits to save taxpayers money fighting them.
Richard Miller, Kenny G. Wicks and Craig Gibson Jr. alleged in separate lawsuits they and 11 other inmates were beaten on Dec. 21, 2011, after a fight between inmates and guards at the jail four days earlier. They represented themselves in lawsuits filed in May 2012 and July 2012.
The settlement agreements were finalized in August and September. They were not made public but recently were released to the News-Democrat under a Freedom of Information Act request.
The county does not admit any wrongdoing in the settlement agreements. County attorneys deny any use of force, according to court documents related to the lawsuit filed by Wicks.
Watson said he would personally prefer to "draw a line in the sand" and force the inmates to take a baseless lawsuit to court.
"I hate (the settlements), don't get me wrong, but then again I understand it, too. It's the society we live in today when it is cheaper to just pay it than hire somebody to fight it," Watson said. "I don't like it any better than anybody else but with taxpayers money we do it the most effective way possible."
The inmates allege that after the fight, guards took them individually out of their cells and beat them to "teach" them a lesson, according to court documents.
Watson said the county's corrections officers were professionals and "not going to waste their careers" by facing discipline for acting improperly.
"These corrections officers who work in the jail are very busy people. They don't have time to target one individual or another," Watson said. "They do a very good job of maintaining order and keeping the place, getting people to court on time, making sure visitations happen on time."
Miller, 35, was later convicted of aggravated battery of a peace officer and sentenced to three years in prison related to the fight with guards on Dec. 17.
Miller alleged in court documents that "me and a couple of inmates got into a fight with the officers at the St. Clair County Jail. We was put on lockdown because of the fight. ... I was told to step into the quiet room. That was when the rest of the officers came in. I was told to take off my clothes. As I was pulling my shirt over my head, I was punched in the face and slammed on the ground. While I was on the ground, I was punched, kicked and tasered."
Miller's lawsuit sought monetary compensation and criminal charges pressed against the guards. He settled for $2,000.
On the same day as the alleged beating, Miller was sentenced to 13 years in prison for aggravated discharge of a firearm. He is currently serving his prison sentence at Big Muddy Correctional Center in Ina, Ill. He was previously convicted of second-degree murder and aggravated battery, according to county records.
Wicks, 29, received $1,800 and Gibson, 32, received $1,500 in the settlements. They each had sought $2.5 million in damages from the county.
Watson said that, in his opinion, the inmates would not have accepted such small settlements if they believed their lawsuits had merit.
Wicks was awaiting trial on a murder charge at the time. He was later convicted of the charge and is currently serving a 45-year prison sentence at Menard Correctional Center in Chester. He was previously convicted of aggravated battery.
Gibson was awaiting trial for armed robbery at the time of the fight. He was later convicted of the charge and is now serving an 18-year prison sentence at Danville Correctional Center. He was previously convicted of aggravated fleeing of police, delivery of cocaine, residential burglary and assault, according to court records.
Watson said he believes some inmates pursue baseless lawsuits because they have no income the county could seek in countersuits.
"If they could actually lose something in the whole process, that might stop them from filing such lawsuits," Watson said. "They have nothing to lose and everything to gain."
Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at email@example.com or 618-239-2501.