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*** UPDATED x2 *** Governor, you need to get your Department of Corrections under control

Wednesday, Sep 4, 2019

* Emily Hoerner at Injustice Watch

Two Illinois Department of Corrections officers accused in lawsuit of civil rights violations against a transgender woman publicly shared memes or other posts that mocked members of the L.G.B.T.Q. community.

A third officer, named in a separate suit brought by another transgender prisoner, posted a Facebook meme disapproving of homosexuality, among other troubling posts.

Each of the correctional officers identified themselves as department of corrections employees on Facebook.

Last month, correctional officer John Mercks went on Facebook and shared a looped video clip writing, along with a crying-laughing emoji, “what it’s like working at a prison.”

The video shows a cut of actor Bruce Willis smiling in response to a person dressed in a short skirt, followed by Willis’ smile vanishing as it becomes clear that the individual wearing the skirt does not conform to traditional gender roles.

Mercks has shared a handful of offensive and explicit memes and other posts mocking the transgender community, women, and claims of sexual assault or physical violence.

The correctional officer shared another meme last month showing a professional wrestler in the process of body slamming another wrestler to the ground with text reading: “I assisted the inmate to the floor! Corrections 101.”

“The coincidence is unreal right now,” Mercks wrote alongside the meme with a crying-laughing emoji.

Mercks is currently named in a lawsuit brought by a transgender woman who said that when she was imprisoned at the Pinckneyville Correctional Center in 2017, Mercks and several other officers beat and sexually assaulted her.

Strawberry Hampton, the woman who brought the suit and was incarcerated under her previous name Deon Hampton, contended she was forcibly removed from her cell, stripped of her clothes, repeatedly punched and kicked and called a homophobic slur.

Three months before the incident alleged in the lawsuit, Mercks shared an offensive and explicit meme on Facebook that displayed an image of Caitlyn Jenner, along with the term “tranny.”

Mercks also shared several anti-semitic, Islamophobic and racist memes. In one, he shared an image of a plow driving through a pile of dead bodies along with a joke about Jews. Another shows several hanged men, described in the image as “Islamic wind chimes.” A third shows singer Celene Dion holding an infant in her hands. “If you hold a black baby to your ear, you can hear the police sirens,” the meme reads. Above the post, Mercks commented “Dear gawd” with a crying-laughing emoji.

Correctional Sgt. Joseph Dudek, also named in Hampton’s lawsuit, is identified as one of the officers Hampton said in the complaint beat and assaulted her. Dudek has publicly shared memes on Facebook that make fun of online support for Muslim refugees and individuals who identify as transgender, and link a man’s lack of interest in guns with his sexuality.

A third correctional employee, Sgt. Gary Hicks, is named in a separate lawsuit brought earlier this year by a transgender prisoner identified only as Tay Tay. Formerly housed at the Shawnee Correctional Center, Tay Tay said in the suit that Hicks called her a homophobic slur and used other inappropriate language in 2018. The woman also said in her suit that she told Hicks she felt unsafe and threatened by her cellmate, but that he did not let her out of her cell or allow her to file a grievance. According to the lawsuit, she was later raped by her cellmate.

On Hick’s public Facebook page, he shared a meme in July that deemed homosexuality a sin, and reposted Islamophobic memes. He also commented on his interest in being part of the fight if civil war or government overthrow unfolds in the United States and shared an image of soldiers standing in front of a military tank draped in the confederate flag.

It’s a free country and they can post whatever they want on their stupid Facebook pages, but this is just disgusting and it sure does seem to boost Strawberry Hampton’s claims.

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*** UPDATE 1 *** Illinois Department of Corrections…

IDOC takes these matters very seriously and has zero tolerance for bigotry of any kind. The employees are on leave pending active IDOC investigations into these posts. Based on the result of these investigations, the department will take all appropriate disciplinary action.

IDOC also pointed to these rules…

· Employees shall not engage in conduct that impairs their ability to perform their duties and responsibilities in an impartial manner.

· The Department shall require employees to conduct themselves in a professional manner and, whether on duty or off duty, not engage in conduct that is unbecoming of a State employee or that may reflect unfavorably on or impair operations of the Department.

Punishment can include discharge.

*** UPDATE 2 *** Ghirlandi Guidetti, Staff Counsel, ACLU of Illinois…

The Injustice Watch report is troubling, but holds little surprise. IDOC’s deliberately poor treatment of prisoners who are transgender in Illinois led the ACLU to file a class action lawsuit on their behalf. At a recent hearing in federal court in East St. Louis in this case, our clients reiterated the disrespect, mistreatment, and danger they face each day. In short, it is a story of dehumanization of our clients. It is little wonder that some personnel take this cruel ignorance to social media, expressing such disdain for persons in their care and custody. The Governor and the IDOC Director need to address this issue and fix this problem – as quickly as possible.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

42 Comments »
  1. - Three Dimensional Checkers - Wednesday, Sep 4, 19 @ 11:14 am:

    ==they can post whatever they want on their stupid Facebook pages==

    Can they? I think the state can regulate this kind of conduct even if it is done on personal time. The CPD has prohibitions for behavior that would damage the reputation of the Department or call into question the Department’s ability to be fair in executing its duties. I am paraphrasing the rule there, but the point is I think the state can prohibit this behavior.


  2. - Dotnonymous - Wednesday, Sep 4, 19 @ 11:15 am:

    The underbelly of America’s gulag…scrapes the bottom of the barrel.


  3. - OutOfState - Wednesday, Sep 4, 19 @ 11:18 am:

    I’m not sure what 1st Amendment restrictions would prevent this, but I’d support a policy that states “evidence of prejudicial attitudes that could lead to discrimination or abuse, including social media posts, are grounds for removal.” Sure they have a right to post that stuff, but if it demonstrates a fundamental lack of respect for inmates’ humanity, common sense says we should not continue to give them such serious power over inmates.


  4. - Davos - Wednesday, Sep 4, 19 @ 11:23 am:

    Knuckledraggers drunk on their “authority”. I’m sure they will remained employed when all is said and done. Disgusting.


  5. - Retiredguy - Wednesday, Sep 4, 19 @ 11:31 am:

    I’m hearing things are so screwed up at IDOC they can’t find good people to take key spots. Key positions are either vacant or have Rauner hold overs. The Gov’s public safety point person has to go in and help this out of state director with a clean sweep.


  6. - Skeptic - Wednesday, Sep 4, 19 @ 11:34 am:

    4.3.4 Prohibited Blogging and Social Media Activities –
    “Users are prohibited from making comments or otherwise communicating about customers, citizens, vendors, suppliers, coworkers, or supervisors in a manner that is vulgar, obscene, threatening, intimidating, harassing, libelous, or discriminatory on any grounds.”


  7. - Demoralized - Wednesday, Sep 4, 19 @ 11:38 am:

    They are free to post whatever they want. They are not protected from the consequences of those postings.

    Memo to anyone who uses Facebook. Your employers likely know what you are posting. And rest assured those employers will act accordingly when you go off the rails with your postings.


  8. - Wonk - Wednesday, Sep 4, 19 @ 11:41 am:

    @OutofState, good luck getting that agreed to by the union. I assume there would be a grievance when they tried to terminate, whether based on existing policies, the Code of Personal Conduct, or some future policy that is more specific. I would bet the person would be reinstated with pay when all is said and done. Progressive discipline is required in nearly all instances, so a one-and -out on something like that would be near impossible to enforce.


  9. - Pot calling kettle - Wednesday, Sep 4, 19 @ 11:42 am:

    The 1st Amendment lets you say what you want (mostly), but it doesn’t guarantee you a job after you do so.


  10. - Pike County Whig - Wednesday, Sep 4, 19 @ 11:49 am:

    Governors Own.


  11. - Merica - Wednesday, Sep 4, 19 @ 11:55 am:

    Here’s a novel idea, why don’t we start hiring people who share/exhibit values we want in people who are in such an important role. These aren’t Pizza Hut delivery drivers making $8.50/hr, they’re responsible for the lives and safety of dozens of people and they’re making $200k plus with salary, overtime, health and pension benefits. Maybe we need to start requiring a bachelor degree, an Msc in psychology?


  12. - Davos - Wednesday, Sep 4, 19 @ 12:01 pm:

    =$200k plus with salary, overtime, health and pension benefits.=

    I can’t imagine any Correctional Officer making $200K. I’m sure many exceed $100K with overtime, but can’t imagine total comp. packages for DOC officers even get close to $200K.


  13. - Moe Berg - Wednesday, Sep 4, 19 @ 12:07 pm:

    I’d be interested in hearing what AFSCME has to say about its members’ behavior and what the union thinks its role is in ensuring the professionalism of its members.


  14. - SpfdNewb - Wednesday, Sep 4, 19 @ 12:08 pm:

    I think most correctional officers require a 4 year degree before applying but I am unsure (depends on the state/locality). They are still not making anywhere close to 100k with overtime. Glassdoor’s reported salary range for a CO in Chicago is $38k-$67k.


  15. - Perrid - Wednesday, Sep 4, 19 @ 12:10 pm:

    Merica, try again. Even shift supervisors top out around $175k, the average for all Correction Officers is like 60-65k. I don’t know that demanding a degree would do a single thing to improve the quality of applicants’ character, either.


  16. - Southern - Wednesday, Sep 4, 19 @ 12:10 pm:

    Maybe we need to start requiring a bachelor degree, an Msc in psychology?

    The State can’t fill these jobs now. All you need to have to hire into DOC now is a pulse and not convicted of a felony.


  17. - Steve - Wednesday, Sep 4, 19 @ 12:22 pm:

    -It’s a free country and they can post whatever they want on their stupid Facebook pages-

    I don’t know what the law is in Illinois but…. many employers have limits on what you say to the media. It’s part of the job contract. Probably not a good thing for these guys to be posting anything… at all for security and image reasons.


  18. - Merica - Wednesday, Sep 4, 19 @ 12:24 pm:

    I said $200k with salary, overtime, health and pension benefits. Healthcare through health link OAP with 2 dependents costs the State $37k a year. The pension benefit for someone who starts at age 25 and retires at age 45 making $80k(75% plus 3% COLA), is worth $1.4M, or $60k a year. So yes, add it all
    Up it’s easily In excess of $200k.


  19. - Cubs in '16 - Wednesday, Sep 4, 19 @ 12:24 pm:

    ===Maybe we need to start requiring a bachelor degree, an Msc in psychology?===

    That wouldn’t root out this type of behavior. There are plenty of educated people with these beliefs.


  20. - Glengarry - Wednesday, Sep 4, 19 @ 12:48 pm:

    You would think a background check these days for safety positions would require a social media search to be part of the background check process.


  21. - Smoke and mirrors - Wednesday, Sep 4, 19 @ 12:51 pm:

    Look at the legislative accomplishments, are you saying there is something else we should be doing?


  22. - illinoyed - Wednesday, Sep 4, 19 @ 1:39 pm:

    Merica, twenty years only gets you 50% and you have to be 55 or retired 5 years to collect the AAI.


  23. - NIU Grad - Wednesday, Sep 4, 19 @ 2:30 pm:

    Has anyone reached out to AFSCME for comment? Will they be aggressively defending the employees from any “appropriate disciplinary action”?


  24. - Nothing new - Wednesday, Sep 4, 19 @ 2:39 pm:

    DOC isn’t the only agency with hold-overs from Rauner that are a complete mess. All it takes is for someone to open their eyes.


  25. - oldhp - Wednesday, Sep 4, 19 @ 2:59 pm:

    Everybody that works in a prison is bad apple and we all know these inmates always tell the truth. Pfffft………Get real.


  26. - Shytown - Wednesday, Sep 4, 19 @ 3:10 pm:

    This is disgusting. Each one needs to be fired and AFSCME needs to step up their game with zero tolerance against employees who pull this crap.


  27. - @misterjayem - Wednesday, Sep 4, 19 @ 3:26 pm:

    DOC is in a bind — the biggest problem when you’re hiring men to keep people in cages is that you’ve got to hire the kind of men who’d want a job keeping people in cages.

    – MrJM


  28. - Alex Ander - Wednesday, Sep 4, 19 @ 3:47 pm:

    Pertaining to the last paragraph that talks about him wanting to arm up in a revolution/civil war. I don’t understand how a bunch of overweight, middle aged men with AR 15s think they’re going to put up a fight against young trained soldiers using much more superior weapons and the best technology in the world. These knuckleheads will find themselves routed within minutes, but to be honest, none of them will arm up like they say they will. It’s all hot air.


  29. - Toon - Wednesday, Sep 4, 19 @ 4:09 pm:

    Since ‘Merica brought it up, visit https://illinoiscomptroller.gov/financial-data/state-expenditures/employee-salary-database/
    for information on pay rates. (Base salary for Mercks is $4300/month) The pay rates are interesting…and nauseating.


  30. - Soccermom - Wednesday, Sep 4, 19 @ 4:25 pm:

    Strawberry Hampton was repeatedly tortured. When she spoke out, she was tortured in retaliation. It is SICKENING that our tax dollars paid for her brutal treatment.


  31. - Candy Dogood - Wednesday, Sep 4, 19 @ 4:27 pm:

    I spoke with a corrections officer last month that implied that they stop being racist once folks stopped talking about reparations.

    He seemed confused that the two issues weren’t a tit for tat kind of thing.


  32. - MrX - Wednesday, Sep 4, 19 @ 5:42 pm:

    “The pension benefit for someone who starts at age 25 and retires at age 45 making $80k(75% plus 3% COLA)”

    Where are those numbers coming from? Under the alternative formula for tier 1, you can’t retire before 50 and that’s with 25 of service in a position that qualifies in the alternative formula.


  33. - Southern - Wednesday, Sep 4, 19 @ 5:57 pm:

    Strawberry Hampton was repeatedly tortured. When she spoke out, she was tortured in retaliation. It is SICKENING that our tax dollars paid for her brutal treatment.

    Proof? Pretty serious accusations you are making


  34. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Sep 4, 19 @ 6:15 pm:

    ===Proof? Pretty serious accusations you are making===

    Let’s start here…

    ===Two Illinois Department of Corrections officers accused in lawsuit of civil rights violations against a transgender woman publicly shared memes or other posts that mocked members of the L.G.B.T.Q. community.

    A third officer, named in a separate suit brought by another transgender prisoner, posted a Facebook meme disapproving of homosexuality, among other troubling posts.===

    That we do know, as the posts on Facebook were/are there.

    Next step?

    ===IDOC takes these matters very seriously and has zero tolerance for bigotry of any kind. The employees are on leave pending active IDOC investigations into these posts. Based on the result of these investigations, the department will take all appropriate disciplinary action.===

    We can start there, if you’d like.


  35. - ^^^^^^^^^ - Wednesday, Sep 4, 19 @ 7:49 pm:

    Accused.


  36. - Southern - Wednesday, Sep 4, 19 @ 8:39 pm:

    We can start there, if you’d like.

    They are investigating a Facebook post. That is all. Let me define “leave” for you - paid time off while we review your Facebook posts until the story dies down. No proof of torturing the offender as mentioned above.


  37. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Sep 4, 19 @ 8:43 pm:

    ===They are investigating a Facebook post. That is all.===

    Welp…

    ======IDOC takes these matters very seriously and has zero tolerance for bigotry of any kind. The employees are on leave pending active IDOC investigations into these posts. Based on the result of these investigations, the department will take all appropriate disciplinary action.===

    Ya think this I’ll be just “paid leave” after the press on this?

    It’s… “so what” is your answer?

    Governors own.

    Tough to see these guys walking and not much said.

    We’ll see about the other.


  38. - Southern - Wednesday, Sep 4, 19 @ 9:06 pm:

    It’s… “so what” is your answer?

    Yes, it will just be a paid leave. I believe the State will try to terminate their employment, but after the Union steps in they will keep their jobs. There is proof that these employees are not very smart, but being dumb doesn’t mean you are guilty of torturing a person.


  39. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Sep 4, 19 @ 9:08 pm:

    ===doesn’t mean you are guilty of torturing a person.===

    I’m sure the court case will find out.

    Your definition of no tolerance is interesting.


  40. - ^^^^^^ - Wednesday, Sep 4, 19 @ 9:25 pm:

    Yes. The courts will decide, and when they do, than we can use facts. Not to demean those filing suit…but inmates will and have use(d) the courts for frivolous cases or exaggerate their case.


  41. - Southern - Wednesday, Sep 4, 19 @ 9:33 pm:

    I’m sure the court case will find out.

    Depends - if the staff are found guilty, we will all find out. If they are found not guilty or the case gets tossed out, you won’t hear anything about it - The press wouldn’t find that story very interesting


  42. - Getalife - Thursday, Sep 5, 19 @ 3:04 pm:

    Also, if you used your journalistic abilities you would see that the original story has been edited. Great job once again, Rich.


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