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Cortes v. Stolworthy

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

July 27, 2015

DONALD STOLWORTHY, et al., [1] Defendants.


STACI M. YANDLE, District Judge.

Sergio Cortes is currently incarcerated at the Lawrence Correctional Center in Sumner, Illinois. (Doc. 1 at 1.) Proceeding pro se, Cortes has brought a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that his constitutional rights were violated during a strip search and cell shakedown conducted by the Orange Crush Tactical Team at Lawrence on July 10, 2014. ( Id. at 2-3.) The named defendants include Donald Stolworthy, the Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections; Joseph Yurkovich, the Chief of Operations for the Illinois Department of Corrections; and Stephen Duncan, the Warden of Lawrence. ( Id. at 5.) Cortes has also named fifty-four corrections officers, who he alleges were members of the Orange Crush team assigned to Lawrence during the search, as well as an Unknown Party placeholder for members of the Orange Crush team that he could not identify before filing his complaint. ( Id. at 6.) Cortes seeks injunctive relief, compensatory damages, and punitive damages. ( Id. at 17-25.)

This matter is now before the Court for a preliminary review of Cortes' complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court shall review a "complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a government entity." During this preliminary review under § 1915A, the court "shall identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, " if the complaint "is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted" or if it "seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief."


Cortes' housing unit at Lawrence was searched by the Orange Crush officers on July 10, 2014. ( Id. at 8.) Upon entering his housing wing, the officers began "making loud noises" while "hitting their batons on the walls, doors, and railings." ( Id. ) Two of the Orange Crush officers lined up in front of Cortes' cell and told him to get "buck ass naked!" ( Id. ) Once Cortes and his cellmate were nude, one of the officers ordered Cortes' cellmate to turn around and spread his buttocks, and then directed Cortes' cellmate to face the officer and lift up his genitals. ( Id. at 9.) The officer then ordered Cortes' cellmate to use his hands to search his own mouth for contraband. ( Id. ) The officers tried to order Cortes to engage in the same behavior, but ran into a language barrier, as Cortes speaks limited English. ( Id. ) The officers then used Cortes' cellmate as a translator, ordering Cortes to duplicate the search on himself. ( Id. ) During the search, Cortes noticed that one of the officers watching the search was female. ( Id. at 10.)

After the search was finished, the officers directed Cortes and his cellmate to dress in pants, a State-blue overshirt, and boots, but did not permit them to put on underwear. ( Id. ) Cortes and the other inmates were then ordered outside of their cells and to a nearby wall, where they were directed to keep their backs to the officers, their heads down, and to not look at the officers. ( Id. ) While in this position, Cortes and other inmates were handcuffed "in a very painful manner, " causing injuries to Cortes' wrists. ( Id. ) When Cortes moaned in pain, one of the officers told him to "[s]top acting like a fucking baby and shut the fuck up." ( Id. )

Cortes and the other inmates were then directed to walk out of the housing wing. ( Id. at 11.) During the walk, Cortes saw a few objects on the ground, and he glanced down to look at them. ( Id. ) This led one of the officers to rush at Cortes, jump up, and kick Cortes in his lower back, causing him to fall to the ground. ( Id. ) At this point, several other officers began screaming at Cortes to "get the fuck up and back on your feet." ( Id. ) Cortes had trouble on account of the handcuffs, so one of the officers grabbed his back and "painfully pulled him back onto his feet." ( Id. ) As Cortes exited the housing unit, one of the officers - Michael Gilreath - was waiting and "beating" on all of the inmates that passed through the door. ( Id. )

After exiting the housing unit, officers lined Cortes up next to other inmates and began hitting their batons, chanting "Time to pay" and other epithets. ( Id. ) Once the chanting stopped, officers grabbed the back of Cortes' head and "slammed it violently into the back of the inmate ahead of him in line." ( Id. ) The officers then ordered the inmates to stand in such a way that one inmate's genitals were in direct contact with the buttocks of the inmate ahead - a practice referred to as "Nuts to Butts" by the officers. ( Id. at 11-12.) To squeeze Cortes closer to another inmate, Cortes says that one officer shoved his baton in between Cortes' legs, causing Cortes to straighten his legs and force his hips into the inmate in front of him. ( Id. at 12.) The officers then ordered all of the inmates to walk in this manner to the prison cafeteria, yelling that they wanted "no fucking daylight" between the prisoners along the way. ( Id. ) During the walk to the cafeteria, if one of the inmates pulled his head back from the inmate in front of him, the officers would attack him. ( Id. ) Cortes himself was "poked and hit" during the march. ( Id. )

When the prisoners arrived at the cafeteria, they were kept in handcuffs and ordered to sit at solid metal tables with their chins pressed to their chest. ( Id. at 13.) One officer - Steven Conrad - was initially helping some of the inmates who were in pain, but when an unknown Orange Crush officer saw him helping, he told Conrad to stop and reprimanded him. ( Id. ) Cortes' cellmate, at Cortes' behest, tried to get Conrad to help Cortes, but Conrad said that he "wish[ed] [he] could, " but that he "already got [his] ass chewed for helping." ( Id. )

After several hours in the cafeteria, the Orange Crush officers returned. ( Id. ) They lined up Cortes and the other inmates, again slammed the inmates' heads into the back of the inmates ahead of them, and ordered all involved into "Nuts to Butts" formation for the walk back to their cells. ( Id. ) When Cortes arrived in his cell, he found that his cell had been "destroyed along with his property." ( Id. at 14.) Several items of Cortes' personal property had been taken, including items he purchased from the commissary and an outside art supplier at Lawrence. ( Id. ) Cortes received a shakedown slip sometime thereafter: the identification of the officer who searched his cell had been "obscured, " and the slip contained an "inaccurate account" of what had been taken. ( Id. ) Cortes' cellmate expressed outrage at the condition of his cell, and an officer told him that his cell might not end up that way if he stopped "filing lawsuits." ( Id. at 14-15.) Warden Duncan was present nearby during this outburst and, in response to the cellmate's complaints, told him to "write a grievance" - that he did not "want to hear about it." ( Id. at 15.)

Cortes asserts that both the strip search and movement of inmates were purposely conducted in a humiliating manner. ( Id. ) He also says that officers executed the shakedown procedures pursuant to a policy or practice that was "implemented, overseen, and encouraged by [Illinois Department of Corrections] supervisors, " including Yurkovich and Duncan. ( Id. at 16.)


The Court will begin with a preliminary note concerning the handling of Orange Crush cases in the Southern District of Illinois. Cortes' complaint here closely tracks the pleading in Ross v. Gossett, Case No. 15-cv-309-SMY-PMF, which was filed in this Court on March 19, 2015. The plaintiff in Ross is seeking injunctive relief and damages on behalf of himself and a class of prisoners that were subjected to similar strip searches while incarcerated at Lawrence and three other Illinois prisons during 2014. Should the Ross class be certified, Cortes would likely be a member of the class. Owing to the similarities between the two cases and the need to consolidate judicial resources, Cortes' case was transferred to the undersigned judge.

With that point out of the way, the Court will evaluate Cortes' complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. In his complaint, Cortes has listed five discrete causes of action, which are set out below. Because Cortes has enumerated all of his claims, the Court will rely on his list ...

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