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Pennsylvania Jail Prisoner Settles Use-Of-Force Suit For $15,000

On January 3, 2005, a Pennsylvania prisoner settled his claims of excessive use of force and deliberate indifference against Lackawanna County Prison officials for $15,000.

According to the complaint, plaintiff Mario Ludovici was arrested on October 13, 2001, on a warrant for unpaid child support and taken to the county prison. Ludovici was inebriated at the time.

After he was booked in; Ludovici was taken to the prison's Medical Lockup area where he was issued sneakers that were too small. When Ludovici asked if he could exchange the sneakers for a larger pair, guard Byron Ortalano tackled him face down on the floor. Ortalano then choked Ludovici as he and three other guards--John Snipes, John Sibio, and James Tolan--handcuffed Ludovici, making sure to squeeze the cuffs tight into his skin. Ludovici was then taken to a cell where either Sibio or Tolan punched him in the right eye and upper left arm.

The next morning, guard David Mattern noticed bruises and marks on Ludovici's face and neck and filed a report with Warden Thomas Gilhooley and Deputy Warden Robert Hilborn. No action was taken.

Ludovici sued various defendants in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging excessive use of force and deliberate indifference. More specifically, Ludovici alleged that by assaulting him the guards violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.

Ludovici further contended that Lieutenant Verne Dittfield, Warden Gilhooley, and County Commissioner Randy Castellani were deliberately indifferent to his safety because: Gilhooley had hired Ortalano, Snipes, Sibio, and Tolan without performing a background check--even though Tolan had a history of psychiatric problems and assaults--and failed to initiate an investigation after Ludovici was assaulted. Dittfield knew that the four defendant guards regularly assaulted new prisoners but failed to report it. And Commissioner Castellani, though aware of Tolan's prior psychiatric hospitalization, kept this information to himself when recommending to Gilhooley that he hire Tolan.

Rather than proceed to trial, the defendants settled for $15,000. Attorney David Glassman of the Lewisburg Prison Project in Pennsylvania represented Ludovici on a contingency basis. See: Ludovici v. Gilhooley, USDC MD PA, Case No. 3: CV-03-l798.

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Related legal case

Ludovici v. Gilhooley