CHICAGO — Two Illinois Department of Corrections officers accused in lawsuit of civil rights violations against a transgender woman publicly shared memes or other posts that mocked members of the L.G.B.T.Q. community.
A third officer, named in a separate suit brought by another transgender prisoner, posted a Facebook meme disapproving of homosexuality, among other troubling posts.
Each of the correctional officers identified themselves as department of corrections employees on Facebook.
Last month, correctional officer John Mercks went on Facebook and shared a looped video clip writing, along with a crying-laughing emoji, “what it’s like working at a prison.”
The video shows a cut of actor Bruce Willis smiling in response to a person dressed in a short skirt, followed by Willis’ smile vanishing as it becomes clear that the individual wearing the skirt does not conform to traditional gender roles.
Mercks has shared a handful of offensive and explicit memes and other posts mocking the transgender community, women, and claims of sexual assault or physical violence.
The correctional officer shared another meme last month showing a professional wrestler in the process of body slamming another wrestler to the ground with text reading: “I assisted the inmate to the floor! Corrections 101.”
“The coincidence is unreal right now,” Mercks wrote alongside the meme with a crying-laughing emoji.
Mercks is currently named in a lawsuit brought by a transgender woman who said that when she was imprisoned at the Pinckneyville Correctional Center in 2017, Mercks and several other officers beat and sexually assaulted her.
Strawberry Hampton, the woman who brought the suit and was incarcerated under her previous name Deon Hampton, contended she was forcibly removed from her cell, stripped of her clothes, repeatedly punched and kicked and called a homophobic slur.
Three months before the incident alleged in the lawsuit, Mercks shared an offensive and explicit meme on Facebook that displayed an image of Caitlyn Jenner, along with the term “tranny.”
Mercks also shared several anti-semitic, Islamophobic and racist memes. In one, he shared an image of a plow driving through a pile of dead bodies along with a joke about Jews. Another shows several hanged men, described in the image as “Islamic wind chimes.” A third shows singer Celene Dion holding an infant in her hands. “If you hold a black baby to your ear, you can hear the police sirens,” the meme reads. Above the post, Mercks commented “Dear gawd” with a crying-laughing emoji.
Correctional Sgt. Joseph Dudek, also named in Hampton’s lawsuit, is identified as one of the officers Hampton said in the complaint beat and assaulted her. Dudek has publicly shared memes on Facebook that make fun of online support for Muslim refugees and individuals who identify as transgender, and link a man’s lack of interest in guns with his sexuality.
A third correctional employee, Sgt. Gary Hicks, is named in a separate lawsuit brought earlier this year by a transgender prisoner identified only as Tay Tay. Formerly housed at the Shawnee Correctional Center, Tay Tay said in the suit that Hicks called her a homophobic slur and used other inappropriate language in 2018. The woman also said in her suit that she told Hicks she felt unsafe and threatened by her cellmate, but that he did not let her out of her cell or allow her to file a grievance. According to the lawsuit, she was later raped by her cellmate.
On Hick’s public Facebook page, he shared a meme in July that deemed homosexuality a sin, and reposted Islamophobic memes. He also commented on his interest in being part of the fight if civil war or government overthrow unfolds in the United States and shared an image of soldiers standing in front of a military tank draped in the confederate flag.
The Illinois Attorney General’s office, which represents all three of the officers named in the lawsuits, declined to comment because both cases are pending.
The Illinois Department of Corrections did not respond to several requests for comment, nor make their officers available for comment.
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