Security and Crime News
Jail fight called bid for `easy money'
Ex-inmate tells court that detainees tried to recruit him for suit
By Mickey Ciokajlo
Michael Nieto, who currently is on parole from a conviction for armed robbery, said he declined to join the inmates because he had suffered a spinal cord injury five years earlier and didn't want to make it worse.
"He said that they would provoke the officers into an altercation, that they would exaggerate their injuries and file a lawsuit," Nieto testified Tuesday about his conversation with Fields. "I told him I wanted no part of the plan."
Nieto was called as a witness by lawyers for seven correctional officers that Fields and three other inmates sued for alleged excessive force. The trial over the civil lawsuit entered its third week Tuesday in Cook County Circuit Court.
The inmates say the guards beat them after they were handcuffed and shackled during a shakedown in their special incarceration unit at the jail. The guards deny striking the inmates after they were subdued and say they only used the force necessary to quell the fighting started by the detainees.
In his testimony Tuesday, Nieto said Fields started the brawl by striking officer Adrian Molina as the inmates were returning to their cells after a strip search.
Fields punched Molina after Molina put a hand on Fields' arm in an attempt to get the inmate to move back to his cell. Fields had stopped walking and was staring at Molina, Nieto testified.
After Fields punched Molina, another inmate, Luis Sanchez, attacked Molina from behind.
"Hell broke loose," Nieto said. "Everybody started fighting."
Nieto testified that Fields was "just swinging wildly." He said the officers were yelling at him to get on the floor but Fields refused to obey their commands.
The inmates who were fighting were eventually handcuffed and shackled, but Nieto said he never saw any officer strike a subdued inmate.
In testimony Tuesday afternoon, Molina said Fields started staring at him intensely as Fields walked from the dayroom down the corridor toward his cell. Fields suddenly bumped into Molina with his shoulder, prompting Molina to ask, "Do you have a problem?"
"He stopped and turned around and said, `No, I don't have a problem. Do you have a problem?'" Molina testified. "I said, `Take it back to your cell.'"
Fields then punched Molina on the left side of his face, Molina testified.
In the ensuing melee, Molina fell and struck his head.
Earlier Tuesday, Nieto said that shortly after he arrived in the special incarceration unit, Sanchez approached him about taking part in the fight inmates were planning to start during the next shakedown.
Sanchez said Fields was a high-ranking gang member who was organizing the setup, Nieto testified. Sanchez said Fields already had a lawyer, Jean Snyder, from another excessive force lawsuit he had filed in state prison. Fields lost that lawsuit, which he had filed against guards while incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center.
"He told me that since I was already hurt I would be able to get some money if I was involved," Nieto said.
When Nieto told Sanchez he was not interested, Fields visited Nieto and told him about the plan, Nieto testified.
"I told him I was already hurt and the wrong altercation could put me in a wheelchair for the rest of my life because of the spinal cord injury I have," Nieto said.
Another inmate, Andre Crawford, told Nieto "to think about it. That it was easy money," Nieto said.
The day after the fight, when Fields returned to the unit from the hospital, Nieto said Fields commented that "everything had gone according to plan."
Nieto said he was later transferred to another division after he wrote the superintendent, saying he felt threatened.
© J. R. Roberts, Security Strategies