Civil-rights lawsuit involving southern Illinois deputy’s stun gun use on foster kids settled

By Jim Suhr, AP
Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Lawsuit settled over Ill. deputy’s use of stun gun

EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. — A federal lawsuit that accused a southern Illinois sheriff’s deputy of zapping three children with a stun gun at an emergency youth shelter and threatening to sodomize one of them has been settled for $750,000, according to court documents.

David Bowers and a fellow Jefferson County deputy who the lawsuit alleged watched Bowers’ misconduct at the center near Mount Vernon acknowledged no wrongdoing as part of the deal. One-third of the settlement’s payout — covered by the sheriff’s department’s insurer — will go toward attorneys’ fees.

Bowers and fellow deputy Lonnie Lawler still work for the department, where their boss — Sheriff Roger Mulch — has defended their actions, insisting the law enforcers followed protocol and did “nothing out of the ordinary.” Mulch also has noted that separate investigations by his department and Illinois State Police determined the deputies did nothing wrong.

No criminal charges were filed.

Mulch declined to comment on the matter Tuesday, citing the advice from his attorney. Bowers and Lawler do not have listed home telephone numbers and could not be reached by The Associated Press.

Philip Fowler, a Chicago attorney who pressed the lawsuit, credited the settlement with sparing the children the need to testify at a trial that would “put the kids through the emotional trauma of reliving the event.”

“We got justice for kids we thought had been bullied at the hands of police,” Fowler said, noting that the payouts to the children in many ways were structured to allow them access to the money incrementally rather than give them a lump-sum windfall. “It gives the kids money when they need it” for college and other expenses.

The lawsuit, filed in July of last year, accused Bowers and the other deputy of lashing out without provocation at the Southern Thirty Adolescent Center that houses youths ages 11 to 18, often children with behavioral issues.

It claims that Bowers and Lawler went to the center on July 4, 2008, in response to a report that three teenagers were acting unruly. But the young people suing the deputies were not those disruptive children, the lawsuit said.

Bowers allegedly pushed one boy toward his bed and repeatedly shocked him with a stun gun. Bowers then held down a second boy, stunned him several times and threatened to sodomize him, ultimately causing the child to soil himself, the lawsuit claimed.

A third child complied with the deputies’ demands that he sit on a couch, but Lawler handcuffed him before Bowers zapped him repeatedly, the lawsuit said.

The fourth child, a girl, pleaded with the deputies to stop but Lawler handcuffed her. Bowers lifted her off the ground, pressed her against a wall and choked her, the lawsuit alleged.

“Do you want to live or die (expletive)?” the lawsuit claimed Bowers asked the girl before she was thrown into a closet, vomiting.

Calling the deputies’ actions “extreme, outrageous and unjustified,” the lawsuit did not release the names or ages of the three boys shot with the stun gun. The fourth child was a foster child who did not live at the center, according to the lawsuit.

Michael Bertrand, vice president and chief program officer of Lutheran Child and Family Services of Illinois, which runs the center, declined to comment Tuesday about the case or its resolution.

The agency’s president and chief executive, Gene Svebakken, has said the victims were “young people often traumatized in their circumstances, and that they, like all children, needed to be treated with dignity and respect.” Svebakken was vacationing Tuesday and unreachable.

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