Four Pennsylvania guards have been fired for beating a prisoner at the Westmoreland County Prison (WCP). The June 8, 2009 incident revealed a cover-up orchestrated by prison guards and their union leader.
When WCP prisoner James Edwards, 27, and other prisoners in his cellblock were ordered to return to their cells be-cause some were smoking, Edwards complained to part-time guard Christopher Pickard that he should not be punished. Pickard notified a sergeant, who went to Edwards’ cell with two other officers.
They took Edwards, who was in jail on a parole violation, to a nearby counselor’s office out of the view of video cameras. A guard then grabbed Edwards by the neck, slammed him into a filing cabinet, pushed his head against the wall and said, “I’ll kill you right now.”
As Edwards slid to the floor, the guard struck him in the mid-section with his knee and punched him in the head. Upon trying to stand, the guard punched him again.
After the incident, Edwards was taken to be examined by a nurse. He “complained of injuries he stated he received from a beating,” according to medical notes. A subsequent report said Edwards had “multiple injuries to the neck and head area, also ribs and back.” Additionally, he had a quarter-sized contusion near his eye.
Other guards told Pickard “to go along with the story told by everyone else, that nothing happened, nothing occurred. The inmate was never struck, you can’t crack. You have to stick to the story.”
When Pickard was advised that he was under investigation, Casey Mullooly, who represents WCP guards as president of Local 522 of the United Mine Workers of America, told Pickard what to say to prison investigators. “Mullooly said to me when questioned to stick with the story everyone else was going with,” Pickard stated.
That is not, however, what Pickard did. Instead he told the truth to investigators and resigned from WCP on June 14, 2009. Another guard, Craig Petrus, also resigned. As a result of the information provided by Pickard, WCP guard Steven Greenawalt and sergeants Jonathan Billheimer, Marc Hutchinson and Randy Miller were fired by the prison board at a July 6, 2009 meeting. Greenawalt was reportedly the one who assaulted Edwards. Hutchison denied any wrongdoing, stating he had “no idea” why he was fired. Mullooly was suspended.
“Some of the individuals who had their appointments revoked weren’t there that day, but they were involved in what we’ll call a cover-up – an effort to create a story that wasn’t the truth,” said County Commissioner Tom Balya. A state Unemployment Compensation Board of Review later cleared Billheimer, finding he did not engage in willful misconduct. He is now seeking reinstatement at the prison.
As previously reported by PLN, abuses have existed at WCP for some time. In July 2007, a guard was fired for making prisoners sing nursery rhymes, recite the alphabet and get on their knees and bark like dogs. [See: PLN, Dec. 2007, p.1]. That guard, Scott A. Rogers, was sentenced to nine months probation on February 23, 2009. Another WCP guard was fired for engaging in sexual misconduct with a female prisoner, and last year a prisoner filed a federal lawsuit claim-ing he was beaten and choked by guards until he passed out.
Sources: Pittsburgh Tribune, www.thepittsburghchannel.com, www.pittsburghlive.com
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