Pennsylvania prison officials have paid a total of $183,000 to settle lawsuits brought by three prisoners who alleged that guards at State Correctional Institution (SCI) Pittsburgh physically and sexually abused them.
One of the federal civil rights actions was filed in February 2012 against two guards and five current or former supervisors at the facility. As previously reported in PLN, the abuse of prisoners at SCI Pittsburgh was so rampant that it resulted in the firings of several supervisors and criminal charges against seven guards, and spawned a federal civil rights investigation. [See: PLN, Nov. 2012, p.40].
At issue in the lawsuit was the abuse of a prisoner identified as John R.S. Doe, an alias used to protect his identity. Doe was held on a parole violation warrant at SCI Pittsburgh from February 2010 to April 2010. He claimed that during that time period he was sexually assaulted by guard Harry Nicoletti, Jr.
Nicoletti was known to punish prisoners who resisted his orders by physically abusing and threatening them. He allegedly gave Doe the option of being anally raped or forced to perform oral sex, then sexually assaulted him.
The lawsuit further claimed that in mid-April 2010, Nicoletti, two other guards and a prisoner sexually abused a transgender prisoner over a nine-day period. Nicoletti was reportedly allowed to freely move around SCI Pittsburgh to force prisoners to perform sex acts without limitation or questioning from his supervisors about being in areas that did not warrant his presence.
As proof that prison officials were deliberately indifferent to the health, safety and welfare of prisoners – especially Doe – the complaint alleged supervisors allowed guards “to gather in the ‘bubble’ where they would openly discuss their system of terrorizing, threatening, and physically abusing inmates.” Guards who were “off the clock” were allowed to loiter or “hang out” around the cell blocks, and sometimes instigated fights so that multiple guards “could participate in retaliatory assaults” against prisoners.
On April 20, 2014, the state of Pennsylvania agreed to pay $20,000 to Doe to settle his federal lawsuit; the settlement was finalized and the case dismissed in August 2014. Doe was represented by attorney Wayne M. Chiurazzi. See: Doe v. Nicoletti, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Penn.), Case No. 2:12-cv-00162-LPL.
Previously, state prison officials had paid $163,000 to settle lawsuits filed by two former prisoners sexually abused by Nicoletti.
One of those prisoners, Rodger E. Williams, was transferred from the Allegheny County Jail to SCI Pittsburgh in early April 2010. He immediately drew the attention of Nicoletti, who asked him if he was a “faggot.” Williams declined to answer to avoid a confrontation.
Williams was escorted to a double-bunk cell, but Nicoletti later had him transferred to a single cell. Nicoletti entered the cell later that night, ordering Williams to undo his jumpsuit and expose his chest. Williams objected, resulting in threats of violence from Nicoletti, who suddenly “forced himself on top of” Williams, pinning him to the bunk.
Nicoletti then forced “Williams’ jumpsuit beneath his waist and proceeded to anally rape him,” according to Williams’ complaint. During the rape, Nicoletti “issued a constant stream of obscene and derogatory comments.” Once finished, Nicoletti threatened Williams with violence and instructed him not to report the sexual assault. As solace, he promised “it would be better” the next time.
Several days later, Nicoletti had Williams moved to a more isolated cell and again raped him that night. The next day Nicoletti brought a prisoner worker to Williams’ cell, and forced him to perform oral sex.
On the night before Williams was transferred to SCI Camp Hill, Nicoletti had his cell door opened. Williams closed the door before Nicoletti arrived, but another guard reopened it in response to a radio call from Nicoletti. Once again, Nicoletti forced Williams onto his bunk and anally raped him.
On February 6, 2014, state officials agreed to pay Williams $98,000 to settle his lawsuit. See: Williams v. Folino, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Penn.), Case No. 2:11-cv-00958-MRH-LPL. The state also agreed to pay a $65,000 settlement to another, unidentified former prisoner who had been sexually abused by Nicoletti at SCI Pittsburgh.
Nicoletti was found guilty of 27 counts related to his abusive conduct, but was found not guilty of 53 counts, including all of the alleged sex offenses. He received a sentence of five years’ probation and six months on house arrest. [See: PLN, May 2013, p.12].
Additional source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
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Related legal cases
Doe v. Nicoletti
|Cite||U.S.D.C. (W.D. Penn.), Case No. 2:12-cv-00162-LPL|
Williams v. Folino
|Cite||U.S.D.C. (W.D. Penn.), Case No. 2:11-cv-00958-MRH-LPL|