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Pennsylvania “Gunslinger” Guard Breaks Hand on Prisoner’s Face; Prison Officials Offer $5,000 Hush Money

A Lancaster, Pennsylvania, prison guard broke his hand beating a prisoner who was shackled to a hospital bed, according to criminal and civil complaints. Prison officials offered the prisoner $5,000 in hush money afterwards.

Vance Laughman was a prisoner at Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County Prison in 2008. He is bipolar and was prescribed Depakote for seizures, but prison officials gave him “a cheaper, less effective drug, valporic acid,” which caused Laughman to develop pancreatitis. This required the removal of his pancreas, rendering Laughman an insulin-dependent diabetic the rest of his life.

On August 4, 2008, Laughman was transferred to Lancaster General Hospital (LGH) for pancreas-related treatment. His right hand and left ankle were shackled to the hospital bed. Two-hundred-pound Silvestre Villarreal was assigned to watch Laughman at the hospital.

On August 5, 2008, a nurse attempted to administer insulin, but Laughman refused because an intravenous medication line had already been inserted in his arm. Villarreal then called a supervisor at the prison and said “Laughman just tried to swing at me, OK to use force?”

Villarreal hit Laughman in the head and told him to stop resisting. When Laughman said he wasn’t resisting, Villarreal removed his belt, firearm, nightstick, and chemical spray. He climbed on the bed, straddled Laughman, and “began to repeatedly punch him about the face, head, and shoulders.” Laughman faded in and out of consciousness and sustained facial bruising and scarring on his left ankle. Villarreal hit Laughman so hard that he broke his hand, an injury he later collected worker’s compensation for. “Several nurses and hospital security personnel” had to remove Villarreal from atop Laughman.

Upon his return to the prison, officials offered Laughman $5,000 “to not report the matter and not discuss the matter with the press or anyone else.” Laughman declined their offer.

In January, 2009, Lancaster City Police filed a criminal complaint against VIllarreal. In April, 2009, Villarreal posted $8,000 bail on a simple assault charge and District Judge Janice Jiminez ordered him to stay away from Laughman, who has since been released. Villarreal waived a preliminary hearing, but a trial date has not been set.

On May 20, 2009, Laughman filed suit in federal court against “former employee” Villarreal, Warden Vincent Guarini (as a “deliberately indifferent supervisor”), and the prison, because it “has a history of allowing prisoner abuse.”

The suit alleges that “guards known as ‘gunslingers’ routinely beat and abuse prisoners without control, accountability, or discipline from supervisors. Guards who speak up against such abuse are marginalized into silence.” This created and “fostered a culture of ongoing unconstitutional abuse.” The complaint cites previous excessive force suits the county has settled with other prisoners, including a suit that Laughman’s attorney, Leonard G. Brown III, filed against Villarreal and two other guards in October 2008 for assaulting former prisoner Paul Barbacano while he was handcuffed.

County Commissioner and Chairman of the Prison Board, Scott Martin, claimed to know nothing about Laughman’s suit. Warden Guarini did not return multiple telephone calls and Villarreal could not be reached by telephone. His home is for sale but nobody answered the door. Neighbors say his wife and daughter still live there but Villarreal has not been seen in weeks. We will report on future developments in the case.


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