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Second Federal Lawsuit Filed Over Abuses at Pennsylvania County Prison

Second Federal Lawsuit Filed Over Abuses at Pennsylvania County Prison

by David Reutter

A second federal lawsuit has been filed by a former prisoner at Pennsylvania’s York County Prison, alleging that his civil rights were violated by a pattern of abuse by guards that included forcing prisoners to fight each other, physically abusing prisoners and staging events that guards called the “Fight Club” and “Retard Olympics.” Three of the guards involved in the abusive incidents were criminally charged.

Former prisoner David M. Wright, 27, claimed that he was a victim of the abuse and faced retaliation after testifying at a preliminary hearing for the three guards who were charged. The lawsuit was filed on Wright’s behalf by attorney David M. Jacob, who gained local notoriety for requesting an FBI and U.S. Department of Justice investigation into allegations of excessive force by the Pennsylvania State Police and a local police department in York County.

Three of the guards named in the suit, Mark Andrew Haynes, 26, Daniel H. Graff, 37, and David Michael Whitcomb, 28, were charged in late 2013 with official oppression based on allegations similar to those contained in Wright’s lawsuit. They no longer work at the prison, according to York County spokesman Carl Lindquist.

Additionally, the suit accuses guards Adam S. Marcini, Shane Druck and Chad Abel of creating the “Retard Olympics.” In all, Wright’s complaint names 22 prison guards and the York County Prison Board; he seeks compensatory and punitive damages, attorney fees and costs and a jury trial for violations of his constitutional rights, including an Eighth Amendment claim, plus violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Wright’s lawsuit alleges that guards would regularly bet on the outcomes of fights between prisoners, and offer rewards such as food or coffee to the winners while retaliating against and further abusing the losers. His suit claims that for their amusement, guards routinely choked and struck prisoners, forced them to eat “soups” composed of spoiled food and cleaning chemicals or to drink milk until they vomited, and made them “snort” substances that included spices. The lawsuit indicates that some of the abuses were captured on video.

According to court pleadings, Wright was incarcerated at the York County Prison from May 20 through June 30, 2013. His suit alleges that all of the named defendants should have been aware he had been diagnosed as suffering from certain mental illnesses, and that as a result he was targeted to participate in the “Retard Olympics” and “Fight Club.” He said he took part in the abusive events due to fear of retaliation if he refused.

Wright’s lawsuit was the second filed as a result of staff misconduct at the York County Prison. In December 2014, the county agreed to pay a $40,000 settlement to former prisoner James William Hicks, Jr., 27, who had also claimed constitutional rights violations stemming from abuses by guards. Under the settlement, the county and guards made “no admission of liability,” according to York County Solicitor Mike Flannelly.

Hicks’ lawsuit claimed that Graff, Whitcomb and Haynes would entice him to wrestle with Wright and require him to participate in challenges that included drinking a gallon of milk in an hour, eating a spoonful of cinnamon, snorting crushed up candy, snorting a line of “spicy vegetable” flavoring from a ramen noodle soup, and drinking a bottle of water contaminated with pepper foam. Hicks also claimed physical abuse, such as guards punching him to see whether he could take the blow without falling down.

Asked to comment on Wright’s suit, which remains pending, county spokesman Lindquist said, “The York County Prison holds staff to the highest possible standards of conduct and believes strongly in the proper treatment of inmates. Allegations of misconduct by staff are taken extremely seriously. That commitment is evident in our response to the allegations in this case, such as promptly bringing in Pennsylvania State Police to conduct an independent investigation.” See: Wright v. Haynes, U.S.D.C. (M.D. Penn.), Case No. 1:15-cv-00865-JEJ-JFS; Hicks v. Graff, U.S.D.C. (M.D. Penn.), Case No. 1:14-cv-01879-JEJ-TMB.

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Related legal cases

Wright v. Haynes

Hicks v. Graff