#22 Lawsuit against Illinois Department of Corrections Exposes Militarization of Law Enforcement inside Prisons

by Project Censored
Published: Updated:

Against a backdrop of national concern over the militarization of police, Brian Dolinar reported for Truthout that a judge has approved a 2015 lawsuit against 232 Illinois Department of Corrections officers to proceed to the discovery phase. The class-action suit, Ross v. Gossett, brought on behalf of prisoners at Menard, Illinois River, Big Muddy River, and Lawrence Correctional Centers, alleges that the “Orange Crush” tactical team used excessive force, including physical and sexual abuse, when it conducted mass shakedowns in the spring of 2014. As Dolinar wrote, “less is known beyond prison walls about guards who regularly brutalize those incarcerated,” but the Illinois lawsuit “names a list of horrific abuses that includes strip searches, beatings and mass shakedowns of cells,” indicating how militarization of law enforcement has occurred inside prisons as well as in public.

Dolinar described the development and increasing use of so-called Special Operations Response Teams (SORTs), also known as tactical teams, in prisons across the US since the 1971 prison rebellion at Attica in New York. Dolinar’s report focused in particular on one such group, within the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC), that has come to be known informally as the “Orange Crush,” referencing their orange jumpsuits and extreme “horrific abuses.” IDOC Orange Crush teams, Dolinar reported, first developed in 1996 when Illinois attempted to address the problem of prisons gangs, including the Vice Lords and Latin Kings, that often ran illicit operations with the cooperation of prison authorities.

The lawsuit alleges that Orange Crush teams used tear gas against prisoners and that, at some prisons, officers forced inmates to undergo what are known as “nuts to butts” searches, in which prisoners are forced to walk bent over at approximately a ninety-degree angle with no space between them. According to former inmates, if prisoners were to stand up during this procedure, they could be beaten. Documents released during discovery in the trial have revealed that dozens of inmates have required medical treatment as a result of Orange Crush searches. Officers also allegedly wore riot helmets to conceal their identities.

According to inmate statements, during cell searches some officers removed legal documents that prisoners intended to use in their trials. As Dolinar reported, “The reason why the Orange Crush conducted the sweeps is still unclear.”

The lawsuit, filed by the Uptown People’s Law Center and Loevy & Loevy, a Chicago-based firm, seeks to expose the Orange Crush and those who ordered raids at four separate facilities in Spring 2014. After the IDOC sought to have the suit dismissed, District Judge Staci Yandle concluded that defendants “purposely concealed their identities to evade responsibility for their actions.”

Beyond Brian Dolinar’s Truthout report, the alleged abuses by the IDOC Orange Crush unit and the resulting lawsuit have received limited news coverage, with reports restricted to local outlets, such as the Belleville News-Democrat and the Chicago Defender.

Brian Dolinar, “Orange Crush: The Rise of Tactical Teams in Prison,” Truthout, January 2, 2017, http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/38941-orange-crush-the-rise-of-tactical-teams-in-prison.

Student Researchers: Daniel Hayden and Nicholas Duran (Citrus College)

Faculty Evaluator: Andy Lee Roth (Citrus College)