Two of three former Illinois correctional officers charged in the brutal beating of a man in their custody will now serve time behind bars for his death after being sentenced in federal court this month.
Todd Sheffler, 54, a former lieutenant at the Western Illinois Correctional Center was sentenced by a federal judge on March 21 to 20 years in prison. Willie Hedden, a former sergeant and an 18-year corrections veteran, was sentenced to six years after cooperating with federal authorities on March 22.
Federal prosecutors presented evidence that showed Sheffler was involved in the assault on the elderly man in corner of the prison outside the view of surveillance cameras on May 17, 2018. The facility was notorious for prisoner abuse in the blind spot.
Hedden told prosecutors that it was widely accepted as the culture within the facility. He told the court that he wished he chose to act differently that day.
“What I brought upon them is a horrible tragedy that did not need to happen. For that, I am truly sorry.” Hedden said on March 22 before his sentencing. “I chose this.”
The officers beat the man with his handcuffs behind his back so savagely his ribs were broken, mesentery was punctured, and he sustained bodily injuries that resulted in him dying the next month. As a lieutenant, prosecutors said Sheffler also had the authority and duty to intervene.
The victim’s son Larry Pippion said his father was treated worse than an animal. Doctors who examined the man’s corpse compared his injuries to those of “a high-speed car crash.”
An autopsy of his body showed he had more than two dozen abrasions, hemorrhages, lacerations, and 15 rib fractures.
Co-defendant Alex Banta caused the most severe harm to the 65-year-old man, according to prosecutors. He reportedly jumped in the air, landing on Earvin’s knees. Both Sheffler and Banta were convicted of causing bodily injury, death, and obstruction of justice in connection to their assault on Earvin.
U.S. Department of Justice officials state after the assault the officers failed to get Earvin the proper medical care. Instead, they “sought medical attention for their own minor scratches and thereafter falsified incident reports that they filed with prison officials and lied to the Illinois State Police by denying any knowledge of or participation in the assault.”
Banta was sentenced a week earlier than Sheffler. Both of the disgraced officers received sentences that consisted of “concurrent 15-year terms of imprisonment on two of the five counts of the indictment.”
Senior U.S. District Judge Sue E. Myerscough presided over Sheffler’s sentencing and ensured the former lieutenant would be an old man when he gets out of prison. Even when he gets out, he has five years of supervised release tacked on to his sentence.
DOJ officials said Sheffler received five-year terms of imprisonment after being found guilty of conspiracy to engage in misleading conduct; obstruction — falsification of a document; and obstruction – misleading conduct. Those years will run concurrent with each other and consecutive to the fifteen-year terms.
Hedden, 43, pled guilty to both civil rights charges and to conspiracy to engage in misleading conduct in March 2022. According to WBEZ, he admitted to punching, stomping, and kicking Earvin while he was handcuffed.
Hedden then addressed his victim’s son, Larry Pippion, saying, “Mr. Earvin didn’t have a say. Other than an apology, I thought the only thing I could give Mr. Pippion is the truth, despite how horrible and graphic it was to hear, at least he’d know what happened that day.”
Pippion accepted Hedden’s apology because “he was the only one who didn’t go to trial. He was real sincere. He realized he made a terrible mistake and he accepted responsibility.”
The prosecutors said the government’s job, in this case, was to “seek justice” for Earvin and not necessarily “win.”
“We also hope it serves as a warning to all those who would abuse governmental power that they will be held accountable under the law,” said U.S. Attorney Gregory K. Harris. “Although the vicious and brutal beating of Mr. Earvin cost him his life, and that is a loss that can never be remedied, all of those persons whom the evidence established violated Mr. Earvin’s constitutional rights and caused his death (Sheffler, Hedden, and Banta) have been and are being held accountable.”