Antonio M. Romanucci
Antonio M. Romanucci

A man who suffered from mental health issues and self-mutilation while in prison has filed a federal lawsuit against the officials who at one point sentenced him to solitary confinement until the year 2152.

Plaintiff Anthony Gay alleged that his civil rights were violated when the Illinois Department of Corrections placed him in solitary confinement without treating his mental health issues. Gay spent 20 years in solitary confinement before he was released in August 2018.

The Corrections Department knew Gay suffered from mental health issues and it knew placing prisoners in solitary confinement exacerbates those issues, said Antonio M. Romanucci, a partner at Romanucci & Blandin LLC and one of Gay’s attorneys. Romanucci said the Corrections Department’s treatment of Gay amounted to “torture.”

“IDOC recognized the severity of Anthony’s illness, yet did nothing about it, basically epitomizing the deliberate indifference they had toward Anthony and other inmates who are similarly situated,” Romanucci said. “This is something that should not have happened. It could have been prevented.”

Gay was ordered to spend 3½ years in prison after he violated probation in 1994. He had been initially charged with robbery after stealing another teenager’s hat and a dollar bill. Gay pleaded guilty and was placed on probation. When he was 20, he was caught driving a car without a license.

Gay suffered from borderline personality disorder, his lawsuit says. He began to act out in prison, committing infractions that extended his sentence. In 1998, he was placed in solitary confinement where he would be held for the next 20 years.

Gay alleged in his lawsuit, filed on Dec. 28, that his time in solitary confinement had a “catastrophic” impact on him. He committed “horrific acts of self-mutilation,” which are detailed at length in his 23-page complaint.

He assaulted the prison staff by throwing feces at them, which led to Gay getting charged with assault and convicted, extending not only his sentence but the period of time Gay would be required to stay in solitary confinement.

In total, Gay was convicted of 16 other violations and his original seven-year sentence — which could have been 3½ with good credit — was extended to 108 years, according to Scott F. Main, a clinical fellow at the Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law’s Bluhm Legal Clinic. Main represented Gay when he was incarcerated.

Had Gay not been set free, he faced the possibility of spending the rest of his life in solitary confinement — he accumulated enough disciplinary infractions to keep him in solitary until 2152, according to his lawsuit.

Romanucci said they are seeking “extreme, substantial damages” from the state defendants.

“Any formula that anybody thinks would apply to Anthony Gay would be thrown out the window on this one,” Romanucci said. “Knowing what the Illinois Department of Corrections knew about Anthony Gay’s mental illness and the fact that they inappropriately kept sentencing him to consecutive sentences and keeping in confinement and watching this man physically self-destruct himself is something that has never been seen in this state. That’s why you cannot apply any type of formula for what happened to Anthony Gay.”

Gay’s lawsuit alleges that the Corrections Department officials knew he needed psychiatric care but instead continued to hold him in solitary confinement despite the impact it was having on him.

“The defendants were well aware that it was solitary confinement that was driving Anthony insane, but throughout nearly his entire incarceration they did almost nothing to ameliorate it. Instead, the defendants conspired to simply move him from one solitary confinement cell to another, among the IDOC’s sprawling system of prisons,” Gay alleged in his lawsuit.

Gay was released from prison in August 2018 after Main and Jennifer Soble, an adjunct professor at Northwestern, convinced the Livingston County State’s Attorney’s Office that many of the sentences Gay received for his 16 subsequent convictions should have been served concurrently, not consecutively. Their agreed motion  reduced Gay’s 108-year sentence to 24 years.

 “I believe that he is not alone in the ranks of those who are serving (more) time in the Illinois Department of Corrections based on manifestations of mental illness that we, the state of Illinois, through our elected prosecutors, choose to criminalize rather than treat,” Main wrote in an e-mail. 

“I can only begin to imagine the psychological damage done by the impact of long-term isolation and segregation and I do not think that our correctional system is adequately equipped to meet our constitutional obligation to restore offenders to useful citizenship,” he wrote.

“My personal opinion is that our correctional system did significant damage to Mr. Gay’s physical and mental health. I am thankful that he is home. And I will continue to offer him whatever support I can as he continues his work of re-entry.”

Gay, now 44, lives with his family in Rock Island.

“I was in despair. Now that I’m out of prison with my family, it’s better, and I feel like I’m getting another chance at life. But a lot of those guys won’t get another chance. They’ll die there. I’m fighting to give them the chance to be heard, too,” Gay said in a news release.

Gay’s lawsuit alleges the defendants violated the Eighth and 14th Amendments as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1998.

He specifically sued state of Illinois; acting Corrections Director John R. Baldwin; Wexford Health Sources, a private company that was hired by the department to provide mental health care to prisoners; and various prison officials who were either regional psychology supervisors or the mental health directors of the prisons Gay was incarcerated at.

A Corrections Department spokeswoman declined to comment on the pending litigation.

Gay is also represented by Nicolette A. Ward of Romanucci & Blandin; Alexis Garmey Chardon and Stephen H. Weil of Weil & Chardon LLC; Daniel M. Greenfield of the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern; and Maggie E. Filler of the Boston branch of the MacArthur Justice Center.

The case is Anthony Gay v. The State of Illinois, et al. No. 18 CV 07196.