Prisoner seeks $12 million for effects of second hand smoke

Steve Gonzalez Mar. 13, 2006, 5:46am

Serving a 100-year rape and robbery sentence, a prisoner at maximum security Menard Correctional Center in Chester is seeking in excess of $12.1 million from 11 prison employees claiming he is constantly subjected to high levels of tobacco smoke.

Edward Hanks claims that since his incarceration he has made numerous attempts to let the staff know that the prison's environmental tobacco smoke seriously affects his health. He filed his complaint in U.S. District Court for Southern Illinois on March 3.

Hanks is housed in the protective custody unit.

Known as the "Austin rapist," Hanks was convicted of raping and robbing a 35-year-old Chicago-area woman in 1997. He was suspected in the attacks of seven women on the city's West Side in 1991 and 1992.

According to Hanks, he takes medication for high blood pressure and has repeatedly told the staff that his exposure to the smoke causes high fevers, headaches, chest pains and shortness of breath.

He also claims that the high levels of smoke are higher in the protective custody unit than those in the general population unit which subject him to cruel and unusual punishment.

Hanks also alleges that after he filed grievances about the smoke he was re-assigned to a cell with a smoker as a punishment for complaining.

"Unlike the general population where each gallery has at least five to ten cells designated for non-smokers, protective custody does not enjoy this privilege of right," the handwritten complaint states.

Protective custody is a separate cell house where inmates can ask to be placed if they fear their personal safety may be in jeopardy when housed in general population.

Hanks claims the medical staff at the prison refused to treat or properly evaluate him because of the grievances he's filed.

According to his complaint, he was told that he could check himself out of protective custody if he wanted to get away from the smoke.

"In essence, the defendants' position is that I should forfeit the right of safety for good health provisions," Hanks writes.

Hanks claims his constitutional rights are also being violated because the recreational yard provided for inmates in protective custody is smaller than the yard for general population inmates, and it only has one set of weights.

He also claims that there is no toilet in the yard. Inmates are required to relieve themselves in a corner "that has become foul," Hanks claims.

He also claims the drinking container that is provided for them becomes contaminated because inmates do not wash their hands after using the restroom.

According to Hanks, on one occasion he had "wasted" on himself in the yard due to illness which embarrassed him greatly.

Hanks further alleges that there are a lack of jobs, educational programs and time to visit the legal library in the protective custody unit.

"I seek an injunction and judgment against all the defendants, an order that compels defendants to discontinue the unconstitutional practice that effects my health when housed with smokers," Hanks writes.

Hanks also is seeking a toilet in the yard and $100,000 from each defendant and $1 million in punitive damages from each defendants

The case has been assigned to Chief District Judge G. Patrick Murphy.

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