A former NFL player is among four prison guards accused of forcing teenage detainees to fight as punishment for bad behavior, prosecutors say.
Corrections officers at the Illinois Youth Center in St. Charles ordered juvenile residents to attack fellow prisoners in January 2016, then stood back and watched as they brawled, said Kane County State’s Attorney Joseph McMahon.
Ten victims suffered bodily harm during bouts at the detention center, about 45 miles west of Chicago, authorities say.
“The public expects a fair system from start to finish,” McMahon told The Daily Beast, “and that means… people who are sentenced to incarceration either in the youth center or prison system… are treated fairly and with dignity.
“Correctional facilities are not supposed to be nice pleasant places, but they’re also not supposed to be places where people are exposed to harm from correctional employees,” added McMahon, who in August was named special prosecutor in the high-profile killing of Laquan McDonald by Chicago police.
Last week, a grand jury indicted the jailers, who posted bond and were released from Kane County jail shortly after their arrests. If convicted, the foursome each faces a maximum of two to five years in state prison.
Johan O. Asiata—a hulking 6-foot-4, 300-pound onetime offensive lineman for the Chicago Bears—was charged with five counts of official misconduct, two counts of aggravated battery, and one count of unlawful restraint. The 30-year-old struck his victims about the body and brought contraband into the facility, prosecutors say.
Asiata is listed as a coach for a Chicago Bears youth football camp, and according to social media posts, coached kids this summer.
“Knowing that Johan Asiata was a former Bears football player is disturbing,” one mom wrote on Facebook following his arrest. “He was the ‘special person’ at the football camp [my son] wanted to attend. I don’t think he will be the special person again anytime soon. Disturbing!”
Michael M. Klimek, 40, the fight squad’s alleged ringleader, faces 76 felony counts including official misconduct, aggravated battery, unlawful restraint, theft, and mob action. A local deputy coroner, Klimek allegedly snuck contraband into the detention center and committed battery on public property.
Andre L. McFarland, 31, and Elliot J. Short, 34, also face charges of official misconduct and aggravated battery.
The allegations are especially embarrassing for Asiata, whom the Bears signed as an undrafted free agent in 2009. The rookie, who mostly played on the practice squad and was released two years later, once told the Chicago Tribune, “I just like to play. I just like to hit. That’s why I joined football, so I can hit people for fun.”
The New Zealand-born Asiata graduated from Hawaii National Guard Youth Challenge Academy, a military-style school for troubled youths, the Tribune reported.
In 2010, the lineman told the Chicago Sun-Times his life changed during a six-month stay at the school, where he realized his gridiron passions.
“I just like to hit people—that’s basically it,” Asiata told the Sun-Times. “I don’t get arrested for hitting people, so thank God for that.”
Asiata went on to play Canadian football before joining the now-defunct arena football team, the Los Angeles Kiss, owned by rockers Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. He did not return voicemails left by The Daily Beast.
He appears to have left football in 2014, when he began working for the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice as a “special intern,” state comptroller records show. That year, he was paid $16,700. He made $63,587 and $54,818 in 2015 and 2016, respectively, as a juvenile justice specialist, the employee records reveal.
Meanwhile, Klimek took home $89,179 in 2014 and $87,472 in 2015. He made $73,256 so far in 2016, as a juvenile justice specialist, state records show. A woman who answered Klimek’s phone told The Daily Beast he had “no comment” on the criminal charges.
Records list McFarland as a “special intern” who made $41,243 in 2015 and $51,781 this year. Data on Short was unavailable. McFarland and Short could not be reached for comment.
The guards were put on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the Illinois State Police investigation, according to a Department of Juvenile Justice spokesman. He did not comment on whether the jailers were still employed.
Similar forced fighting allegations have rocked the nation’s correctional facilities.
As The Daily Beast reported in August, a trio of San Francisco inmates settled a federal lawsuit claiming guards forced them to battle like gladiators for food. Criminal charges against the sheriff’s deputies are still pending.
A federal lawsuit in New Jersey accuses corrections officers of making juvenile inmates in Cumberland County fight in 2012. The county shuttered the detention center three years later as a cost-saving measure, NJ.com reported.