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Pennsylvania: No Prison Time for Guards Convicted of Abusing Prisoners

A former Pennsylvania prison guard who was convicted on 27 counts of abusing prisoners will serve no prison time of his own, after a state court sentenced him to five years’ probation and six months on house arrest.

Harry Nicoletti, 61, was convicted of numerous counts of official oppression, simple assault, criminal solicitation and terrorist threats, as well as three counts of indecent exposure. He was acquitted of more serious charges of involuntary deviant sexual intercourse and institutional sexual assault.

The jury reached its verdict after deliberating three days following an 11-day trial that included 58 witnesses, some of them prisoners who recanted their earlier statements against Nicoletti. Charges against four other prison guards had previously been dropped.

Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge David Cashman could have sentenced Nicoletti to up to 18 months in prison, but instead told him, “I’m sparing you from the danger you posed to the individuals you were in charge of.”

Nicoletti was originally indicted on 117 criminal charges following his arrest in September 2011. He was accused of being the ringleader of a group of six guards at SCI Pittsburgh who targeted sex offenders and homosexual prisoners for abuse that included sexual assaults, beatings, tainting food with urine and feces, and other mistreatment. [See: PLN, Nov. 2012, p.40; April 2012, p.1]. “It was evil for evil’s sake,” said Allegheny County Assistant District Attorney Jon Pittman at Nicoletti’s March 27, 2013 sentencing hearing.

Most of the charges related to the mistreatment of sex offenders on SCI Pittsburgh’s F-Block, which served as an intake unit. One prisoner testified that he saw Nicoletti “perform sex acts on [prisoners], beat them, spit on them, flush their heads in toilets and contaminate their food.” At least two prisoners alleged that Nicoletti had raped them, including a “mentally challenged” prisoner who Nicoletti allegedly tried to sodomize with a broomstick.

Families of the prisoners victimized by Nicoletti were not pleased with his sentence of probation and house arrest. “He should get jail time like every other criminal does,” said the father of one SCI Pittsburgh prisoner. “He only stopped when they got rid of him.”

Another former prison guard, Tory D. Kelly, 41, was sentenced on April 1, 2013 on charges that stemmed from the same abuse and misconduct involving Nicoletti. Not only did Kelly abuse prisoners, he also assaulted another guard who had testified against him. He received 12 years’ probation.

The lenient sentences may reflect the juries’ acquittals on more serious charges and the defense’s strategy of portraying victimized prisoners as being liars and untrustworthy.
Another former SCI Pittsburgh guard accused of abusing prisoners, Bruce Lowther, 35, went to trial on April 18, 2013 and was acquitted of all charges.

Various lawsuits filed by prisoners who were abused by Nicoletti and other guards remain pending. Ironically, in November 2012, Nicoletti, Kelly and three other guards who were fired as a result of the prisoner abuse scandal sued the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, alleging due process violations in connection with their terminations and requesting damages for anxiety and other ill-effects they claimed they had suffered.

Sources: Reuters, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,,,,,

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