An attorney representing a prisoner who suffered a near-fatal attack by another prisoner at Pennsylvania’s Lackawanna County Prison (LCP) has claimed that the incident demonstrates a pattern of mistreatment by staff at the facility.
Prisoner Nicholas Pinto, 29, pleaded guilty to child pornography in federal court and was awaiting sentencing at LCP. He was derided by guards and prisoners due to the nature of his charges, and placed in protective custody.
Pinto kept a diary that revealed he endured months of physical, sexual and mental abuse. The diary began with his incarceration at LCP in 2008, and chronicled how guards made him stand naked in his confinement cell, No. 4, for hours on end until the lights went out. “Can’t sleep in freezing cell, naked, cold concrete, and no place to sit. I stand for 3 or 4 days,” Pinto wrote.
A guard once came by his cell and told him, “See how that shit works?” At other times, guards would speak to Pinto over the PA system, saying, “4-cell, kill yourself.”
A former LCP prisoner interviewed by the Associated Press said “he saw guards force Pinto to strip down and stand for prolonged periods in his cell, stand on his toes while parading him naked in the common room, slap him hard upside the head, and toss his meals in the garbage.”
Pinto’s diary also detailed how he was repeatedly raped by a prisoner he called “the silverback.” “First night is bleeding but no penetration,” Pinto wrote while referring to the rapist by name. “The next night (and never again, he lies) is full-on jailhouse Bubba.”
Pinto reported the rapes to authorities, said Rev. William Pickard, a Catholic priest and LCP’s chaplain. Pickard wrote Lackawanna County Commissioners in March 2010 to complain that Pinto’s allegations were not being investigated, “resulting in additional sexual assaults and continued denial of medical treatment.” Rev. Pickard feared that Pinto was “a likely target of severe institutional retaliation” due to his outspokenness about his experiences at LCP.
On August 8, 2010, Pinto was ambushed by another prisoner, Michael Simonson, who was supposed to be in lockdown. As Pinto entered his cell block from the recreation area, Simonson knocked him down and stomped on his head “with all his weight” at least 15 times, according to a police report. Pinto was left lying on the floor with serious brain injuries that put him in a coma.
“There’s a pattern, and there’s a mistreatment,” said attorney Patrick Rogan, who was retained by Pinto’s family to file a lawsuit against Lackawanna County. “What does it arise from? Is it lack of training, or not enough personnel, or just a bad attitude towards inmates?”
Rev. Pickard opined that malice was involved. “I don’t think it was just a mistake. I think there was something more going on here,” he said. The chaplain was prevented from visiting Pinto after he was taken to a hospital, and LCP Warden Janine Donate reportedly told Pickard it “would be better if he didn’t come” to see prisoners at the facility. [See: PLN, Sept. 2010, p.10].
On December 23, 2010, Simonson pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree murder as a result of his attack on Pinto. He is awaiting sentencing. Pinto, who was in a coma for almost three months, has been transferred to a prison medical facility in South Carolina.
“He is awake and conscious, but he needs help with even the most basic activities and is suffering from the brain injury and the beating,” stated Dominic Guerrini, Pinto’s attorney.
The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections issued a report in October 2010 that found around 30 violations of state law related to operations at LCP, including a lack of staff training and failure to properly inventory weapons and keys. The report did not address Pinto’s almost-fatal beating or how LCP staff failed to prevent the attack.
Sources: Associated Press, http://citizensvoice.com, http://thetimes-tribune.com
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