Preliminary Hearing sends Guard to Trial

From: Human Rights Coalition: PA Prison Report, Dec. 12, 2011
Courtroom Beat

Preliminary Hearing sends Guard to Trial: The preliminary hearing for Harry Nicoletti, a guard suspended from SCI Pittsburgh and arrested on felony charges of institutional sexual assault and criminal solicitation, took place December 7 through the 9 in Pittsburgh. Judge Gene Ricciardi ruled that enough evidence was presented by the prosecution to send Nicoletti to trial. The judge held 101 charges that will be ruled on in the Allegheny Court of Common Pleas.

During the hearing, the prosecution called 31 witnesses to testify, most of whom were former or current prisoners. Some testified as victims of assault, and others testified that Nicoletti encouraged them to assault other prisoners for rewards. Patrick Hogan testified that Nicoletti ordered him to put cigarette ashes in the food of another prisoner who was mentally slow, and then pour the rest of the food on the prisoner’s head and smear it on his chest. Hogan also testified that the mentally slow prisoner was ordered to jump up and down for a long time, stand with his nose against a door, and then was ordered to strip down, and was probed with a broom handle. Richard Cavallero testified that when he was at SCI Pittsburgh, he beat up 30 other prisoners while Nicoletti turned his head.

The defense worked to discredit the testimony, inquiring why prisoners did not report to higher officials, and why none of them sought medical attention. One prisoner said he kept quiet for fear of being sent to solitary. One said that he reported the abuse when he was transferred to SCI Camp Hill and they did nothing. Another prisoner said, “I told him I didn’t want to do it. It didn’t matter. I wasn’t going to fight him. … What am I going to do, punch him in the face?”

Department of Corrections statistics from 2010 indicate that 98% of prisoner grievances are denied, despite the Department of Corrections maintaining that the prisoner grievance system provides meaningful oversight of prisoner complaints and abuse. The Department of Justice recently opened an investigation into official abuse at SCI Pittsburgh and SCI Cresson, both in Pennsylvania.