More SCI-Pittsburgh guards charged in abuse

Source: Bill Vidonic, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The former head of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections said he sees similarities between the scandal rocking Penn State and allegations that corrections officers at SCI-Pittsburgh targeted and assaulted inmates convicted of sex crimes.

“What we saw at Penn State is a culture that turned away from what one of the members of the club is accused of doing,” said Martin Horn, a distinguished lecturer at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. “Why should we be surprised when it happens in a correctional institution, when it’s even more insular?”

Authorities on Tuesday arrested six more SCI-Pittsburgh corrections officers, charging them with crimes ranging from assault to stalking at the Woods Run facility. Four of the guards are accused of witnessing or being involved in attacks on inmates that resulted in a guard being charged in September.

The guards’ attorneys said their clients deny any wrongdoing. One said his client was simply doing his job and didn’t believe he had crossed a line.

“This is a state prison,” said Casey White, who represents Kevin Friess. “It’s not supposed to be fun for the inmates.”

David La Torre, spokesman for the PA State Corrections Officers Association, the union representing the prison guards, said in a prepared statement, “As we have maintained, every citizen is entitled to his due process under the law.”

The investigation has resulted in the ousting of the prison’s top four administrators, including former Superintendent Melvin Lockett, though Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said they are not targets of a criminal investigation.

The complaints filed yesterday accuse four of the officers — Tory Kelly, Jerome Lynch, Bruce Lowther and Friess — of watching guard Harry Nicoletti assault some inmates and participating in the attacks or doing nothing to stop him. The men, except for Lowther, are accused of targeting inmates on their own.

Read more: More SCI-Pittsburgh guards charged in abuse – Pittsburgh Tribune-Review