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.

Justice Dept. announces investigation into 2 PA prisons”>Dec 1st 2011
From: Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Justice Department announced today that it is starting civil investigations into two prisons in Western Pennsylvania.

The Justice department will investigate allegations that the North Side’s State Correctional Institution Pittsburgh failed to adequately protect prisoners from violence and sexual assault at the hands of guards and other prisoners, according to a release.

The department also “will look into whether SCI Pittsburgh officers systematically targeted prisoners for violence and other abuse based on the prisoners’ race, sexual orientation, gender identity or other status, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

The investigation into abuse at SCI-Pittsburgh began in late 2010 and has led to the suspension of eight corrections officers and the firings of four top managers.

The department will also investigate allegations that SCI-Cresson provided inadequate mental health care to prisoners who have mental illness, failed to adequately protect such prisoners from harm, and subjected them to excessively prolonged periods of isolation.

Starting Friday, those with information about the prisons can reach the Justice Department via email at

Today’s announcement is separate from any potential federal criminal investigation involving these facilities.

Read more:

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

Mumia’s column about the raping officers in PA

(col. writ. 9/29/11 © ‘11 Mumla Abu-Jamal)
Listen to this here on PrisonRadio.

Several months ago. I reported on the firing of a trio of high-ranking prison officials in connection with a series of sexual assaults in a Southwestern Pennsylvania prison.

Few news agencies took up the story. especially national ones. This was astounding. given the nature of the charges: prison guards both raping men and forcing others to assault them, on their very whim. Prison administrators turning a collective blind eye.

Is this not news?

Since that initial report, one prison guard (who spent months on suspension), Harry Nicciletti, has been arrested and faces over 9O-90!–charges stemming from the events.

According to the local DA, 11 other guards will soon be arrested on related charges.

When news first broke of the scandal, it forced some prison observers to recall ex-President George W. Bush, who, after the rise of the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq. pointed to Saddam Hussein’s usage of the prison, and particularly made note of his “rape rooms.”

Well–once again, Americans have gone one better–from rape rooms to rape blocks!

In the prison known as State Correctional Institution (SCI) at Pittsburgh, those convicted of sex crimes were targeted for beatings, rapes–or both. Sometimes by prisoners, sometimes by guards- -sometimes by both.

Boy–talk about ‘corrections!’

Some men filed institutional grievances (or prison internal complaints) which were invariably dismissed or simply ignored. Other tried to file time-consuming actions in court, where most fell into black holes.

It is worthy to note that this year marks the 40th anniversary of the notorious and vicious slaughter at Attica–a maximum-security prison in upstate New York.

Attica was supposed to be the bellwether of change to American corrections. But, if anything, it shows the limits of liberal reforms, which can be washed away in another season.

Limits were promised by liberal politicians. Years later, neo-liberals would push more restrictive laws that shuttered courtrooms from prisoners, and made civil suits an obstacle course.

They joined with conservatives to build the prison-industrial-complex into the monster that it is today (boy–talk about bipartisanship!).

In many ways, they made the scandals which we see today–and the rape blocks–possible.


Abu Ghraib on the Allegheny?

From: Mother Jones
—By James Ridgeway and Jean Casella
Wed Sep. 28, 2011
A story out of Pennsylvania reveals the extreme abuse to which some U.S. prisoners are subjected. Yesterday, a suspended prison guard from the State Correctional Institution (SCI)-Pittsburgh was arrested on charges that he sexually or physically assaulted more than 20 inmates–and the district attorney has signaled that there are more arrests to come. As the AP reports:

The 92 criminal charges filed Tuesday include several counts each of institutional sexual assault, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, and official oppression — which amounts to covering up the crimes or allegedly threatening others to do so. The criminal charges mirror allegations contained against [corrections officer Harry] Nicoletti and officials at the state prison in Pittsburgh in two civil rights lawsuits filed by inmates in recent months…

The lawsuits, one filed in 2010 and another on behalf of an anonymous inmate last week, allege the systematic abuse of inmates — especially those convicted of child sex-crimes, or believed to be homosexual —by Nicoletti and other inmates at his direction. The lawsuits say the abuse occurred over the past two years in the prison’s F Block, a reception area where new prisoners are housed for a few days for medical testing and to receive other supplies before they’re moved to permanent cells.

Among other things, Nicoletti is charged with raping inmates, threatening them with other sexual acts, and with having inmates contaminate the food and bedding of his alleged targets with urine and other bodily fluids.

According to the criminal complaint, one of Nicoletti’s victims was a transsexual male who developed female breasts due to hormone treatments. Nicoletti fondled that inmate before raping him, while shouting racial and sexual epithets, including calling him a “weird freaky monkey,” the complaint said.

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections says it is shocked and appalled. But while Nicoletti’s alleged conduct may represent the extreme, it is not the first allegation of abuse from the prison. The AP notes: “In April, corrections officials suspended eight guards at the prison, including Nicoletti, and four top prison officials were removed and have since left the department, although officials have declined to say whether they were fired or resigned.” Today, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports that “Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said this morning that at least 11 other Department of Corrections employees will be charged after a wide-ranging investigation into sexual and physical abuse at SCI Pittsburgh.”

Pittsburgh City Paper reported last week that one of the inmate lawsuits, filed in July by transgender prisoner Rodger Williams, contains “the assertion that [Nicoletti’s] abuse ‘occurred with the full knowledge of the superintendent and other high ranking staff at … SCI-Pittsburgh.’ Williams’ lawsuit names as defendant former SCI-Pittsburgh superintendent Melvin Lockett and other prison administrators…In May, the DOC replaced Lockett and three other high-ranking officials at the prison. All three were named in Williams’ lawsuit; none are currently employed by the DOC. At the time, DOC press secretary Susan McNaughton would neither confirm nor deny to CP that the staffing changes had anything to do with the suspensions or grand-jury investigation.”

According to the Pittsburgh-based Human Rights Coalition, which tracks abuse in Pennsylvania’s prisons, the second inmate lawsuit, just filed on behalf an anonymous prisoner at SCI Pittsburgh, “depicts a situation of intimidation, coercion, and physical assault wielded against inmates who tried to refuse the guards or to expose the abuse. Beatings, filing of false charges against inmates, and retaliatory time in solitary confinement were common… All of this transpired with the full knowledge and inaction of the prison management… John Doe’s parents made repeated calls to the DOC and the Commonwealth while their son was incarcerated at SCI Pittsburgh, to no avail.”

Read the rest here.

Guard charged with abusing 20 inmates at SCI Pittsburgh

From: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
By Paula Ward
Sept 27, 2011

A corrections officer at the State Correctional Institution at Pittsburgh was arrested this morning on charges that he assaulted — both sexually and physically — more than 20 inmates at the prison.

Harry Nicoletti, 60, of Coraopolis, is charged with 92 counts of institutional sexual assault, official oppression, terroristic threats and simple assault.

The investigation has been ongoing for several months by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Office of Special Investigations and Intelligence and the Allegheny County District Attorney’s office. More arrests are expected, according to the DA’s office.

The charges were filed based on testimony of inmates and prison staff before the county investigating grand jury.

On Thursday, a federal lawsuit was filed against eight corrections officers and the DOC, alleging a “common plan and conspiracy to sexually abuse, physically abuse and mentally abuse inmates who were homosexual,” along with those who were transgender or convicted of sex crimes.

Read more: