The moments after a confrontation with prison guards left Illinois inmate Terrance Jenkins unresponsive in 2015, the paramedics trying to save his life made a troubling discovery: five small, crumpled balls of what looked like notebook paper lodged in his throat, blocking his airway, the Chicago Tribune reports. The death of the inmate, serving a life sentence for murder, set off an immediate investigation by Illinois State Police. Within hours, teams of agents had descended on the maximum-security prison to interview guards, inmates and medical personnel. Months later, State Police submitted a nearly 400-page report to prosecutors. Documents showed that Jenkins died from a blocked airway and compression asphyxiation from the way the guards had restrained him, putting their weight on his body as his hands were cuffed behind his back and his feet were shackled. Prosecutors declined to bring charges against anyone involved. No explanation ever emerged for how paper became lodged in his throat.
Police did not resolve the sometimes significant differences in the accounts of guards and prisoners, according to interviews and a review of documents and videos obtained by the Tribune under the Freedom of Information Act. Guards were not pressed to explain how the balls of paper got into Jenkins’ throat, nor were they pushed to say what happened to a rag or tissue Jenkins tried to bring from his cell to the recreation yard, the incident that supposedly violated rules and touched off the confrontation. The Illinois corrections department still is investigating the death. Jenkins’ ex-wife and son have filed a lawsuit alleging that guards caused Jenkins’ death by “shoving” paper down his throat when he was restrained.