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Prison Guards Accused of Brutal Suffocation

CHICAGO (CN) — A woman claims in federal court that prison guards beat her glaucomic ex-husband while his limbs were cuffed and stuffed paper down his throat until he suffocated and died.

Terrance Jenkins, 56, an avid card and dominoes player, had gone from his cell at Pontiac Correctional Center, about 100 miles southwest of Chicago, toward the outdoor recreation area on Oct. 4, 2015, when three correctional officers approached him, according to the complaint.

During a pat-down search, either Officer Deal or Bufford, whose first names are not included in the lawsuit, allegedly noticed that Jenkins had a small amount of toilet paper in his breast pocket.

The officer threatened to take Jenkins' "yard time" away, as the paper was not allowed, the complaint states.

"Jenkins told the officer that he needed the toilet paper because of his glaucoma and excessive eye drainage," for which he was receiving ongoing medical treatment, his ex-wife, Phyllis Ellis, claims.

"Deal or Bufford cursed at Mr. Jenkins and yelled at him to 'cuff the f*ck up,' or words to that effect," according to the lawsuit, which Ellis filed Monday in Chicago federal court.

Correctional Lt. James Boland then "approached Mr. Jenkins and sprayed him with mace," Ellis claims.

"[Boland], Bufford, and Deal attacked Mr. Jenkins, beating him and dragging him away from the area," the lawsuit continues. "At one point, defendants slammed Mr. Jenkins against the floor, causing him to scream out in pain that they were breaking his arm."

Ellis says the officers "restrained Mr. Jenkins with handcuffs and leg irons, and led him into a room out of the view of the other prisoners."

"Despite the fact that he was totally immobilized, defendants then viciously attacked Mr. Jenkins, beating him about the face, head, neck, back, wrists, ankles, and knee," the lawsuit continues. "Defendants then shoved a piece of paper (perhaps the same toilet paper that triggered the beating) so far down Mr. Jenkins's throat that he suffocated. They then smothered him with their weight, causing him to asphyxiate." (Parentheses in original.)

Jenkins' autopsy said he died as a result of "restraint asphyxia and airway occlusion by a foreign object" caused by weight applied to him while in a prone position with arms and legs restrained, according to the complaint.

"This was not the first instance of excessive force by defendants [Boland], Deal, and/or Bufford," the complant states. "For example, approximately one week before they killed Mr. Jenkins, defendants Deal and Bufford beat another prisoner at Pontiac."

In addition to Boland, Deal and Bufford, the complaint also names as defendants the warden, Randy Pfister; assistant warden, Marvin Reed; and Reed's unknown predecessor, who allegedly "failed to provide appropriate supervision, discipline, or training, or to take any action to prevent the repeated instances of excessive force."

The eight-count complaint asserts claims for excessive force, failure to intervene, conspiracy, emotional distress, battery, negligence, wrongful death and survival.

Ellis seeks compensatory and punitive damages, attorneys' fees and costs, and a jury trial. She is represented by Sarah Grady with Loevy & Loevy in Chicago.

The Illinois Department of Corrections did not immediately respond Tuesday to an emailed request for comment.

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