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Pennsylvania Sees Rash of Corrupt Guards

by David M. Reutter

Between 2012 and 2014, at least 14 Pennsylvania jail and prison guards were arrested. Most of the arrests stem from corrupt acts while on duty, and the seriousness of the acts ranger from tawdry to downright predatory and reprehensible.

Contraband has always been an issue for houses of incarceration. Guards who bring contraband items have varying motives to violate policy to smuggle it for prisoners.

According to Chester County Prison guard John W. Feister, pity led him to bring a cellphone to pretrial detainee Travis S. McNeal. “He felt sorry for (McNeal), so he gave him a cell phone,” said Feister’s attorney Edward Gallen.

Feister was from out-of-state and said he could not afford to make collect calls to his family. Jail officials received an anonymous call advising that a detainee had been seen on a cell phone. After the phone and its charger were found in McNeal’s cell, he showed his gratitude by telling officials that Feister, who had been terminated a month earlier for being absent from his post, brought him the phone. Feister pleaded guilty to giving a telecommunications devise to an inmate and received a three to 12 month prison sentence.

Chester County Prison guard Erik Messner’s motive for smuggling contraband was about profit. An informant told officials that Messner’s cell phone was given by prisoners to family and friends, who would contact Messner. He would meet them to pick up the drugs, money, tobacco, products, and contraband. Typically, he kept a portion for himself and smuggled the remainder into the prison.

Then there are guards who engage in what Beford County District Attorney William Higgins classified as “reprehensible and egregious” conduct. In sentencing guard Ryan Clapper to 45 days in jail, a judge obviously agreed. Clapper, 26, was perturbed at a prisoner’s complaint that her leg shackles were cold. To punish her for those complaints, Clapper put the shackles in the freezer for an hour before putting them on next time. He was convicted of harassment after bragging to another guard about his spiteful deed.

Guards like Arii L. Metz allow hate to motivate them. By all accounts, David Kipp, 27, was uncooperative when he was brought to the Allegheny County Jail after a fight with his boyfriend and on drug possession charges. Metz made “derogatory slurs about my sexual orientation,” Kipp claimed. Metz later beat Kipp in the October 2010 incident, causing temporary damage to Kipp’s face and eardrums.

Kipp sued and pressed criminal charges. The county paid him $4,000. Allegheny Correctional Services paid $2,500, and a judge entered judgment of $7,500 against Metz. Only because of concerns about the 7-year-old son Metz is raising alone did he avoid a three to four year prison sentence in federal court for violating Kipp’s civil rights. Based on that and Kipps’ forgiveness in court did the federal court sentence Metz to five years’ probation, 200 hours of community service, a $2,000 fine, and $651.39 in restitution to Kipp.

Predator guards also lurk in jails. From 2002 to 2011, Lackawanna County Prison guard Joseph Michael Black, 49, used his position to sexually abuse female prisoners. So far, five victims have been identified.

His reign as a sexual predator began to collapse after he made a move on a federal prisoner, who was a block worker. Black would afford her special food and clothing, but when he tried to rape her in the medical unit, things fell apart. The prisoner quit her job and laid low until she transferred to a federal facility. Once there, she blew the whistle.

Investigators learned that black regularly pulled prisoners’ hair, made lewd comments, and touched them inappropriately. One of his victims had a sexual relationship with Black from 2002 to 2003. The relationship wanted after her release. Black again had control of her when she landed in jail in 2011.

The woman woke up one morning handcuffed to her bed. Black forced her to have sex. Afterwards, she asked why he degraded her in such a way. His reply: Because he could. Another woman says Black used to watch her in the shower and forced her to perform oral sex upon him. Black faces seven counts related to his predatory sexual conduct.

Guard Edward J. Davis, 29, admitted to having a sexual relationship, and bringing contraband to a prisoner at State Correctional Institute (SCI) Dallas. Investigators found more than 100 letters from Davis that wrote about how he and the prisoner kissed and about how Davis enjoyed watching the prisoner shower. On at least two occasions, Davis performed oral sex on the prisoner. He also admitted to bringing the prisoner a gold chain, sunglasses, and drugs. The sexual tryst ended after Davis was caught smuggling a cell phone into the prison. He was sentenced on April 7, 2014 after pleading guilty to a felony institutional sexual assault and misdemeanor contraband with a telecommunications device.

Also sentenced to 11 ½ to 23 ½ months prison for forcing a prisoner at Rockview State Prison to perform sex acts upon him was guard Marlin E. Freeman, 54. He worked on the cell block with the prisoner between 2009 and 2012, and threatened him with loss of his janitorial job and solitary confinement if he refused.

SCI Laurel-Highlands charged two employees with using prisoner labor and state funds to manufacture items in the construction of a private home. Maintenance employee Harold Maust and vocational instructor Stephen Toth were suspended from their jobs and await judicial sanctions for their illegal conduct.

Two other state prison guards were charged for smuggling contraband into prisons. SCI Fayette guard Leann Cellurale, 36, received a three to 23 month prison sentence for smuggling marijuana, cell phones, hair dye, Muslim religious oil and incense. She “admitted to bringing five to eight packages into the prison” after a prisoner turned over to guards a package with marijuana.

SCI Somerset guard Donald Lynch, 35, was arrested after his wife told officials he bragged about smuggling contraband into the prison. Lynch received a two to 23 month sentence for smuggling marijuana, pornographic magazines, and Muslim religious oil into the prison.

Not all guard misdeeds occur on duty. Bucks County Prison guard Anthony Pelcarski, Jr., 36, faces simple assault and recklessly endangering another person after shooting at someone over a dispute about his girlfriend. The SCI Camp Hill guard received 11 to 23 months prison on two-counts of receiving stolen property. The charges involved stolen guns, one of which belonged to a lawyer who was killed at a shooting range in 2010 for his gun.

Allegheny County Jail guard Lawrence M. Winter, 45, was sentenced to six years in federal prison for possessing child pornography. He also received 15 years’ probation.

Finally, there is Lercy Mitchell, a lieutenant at Chester County Prison. Since 1966, Mitchell has abused young girls that he and his wife took in as foster parents.

“For the last 40 years, the defendant built his life around getting access to children in order to sexually abuse them,” said District Attorney Tom Hogan. “His job, his family life, and his coaching activities were part of an act to lure children to him. The defendant was a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

Two victims said the sexual abuse began when they were between 3 and 5-years-old. The most recent charges stem from the 2012 abuse of 7 and 9-year-olds.

At times, those who watch are more depraved that those whom are watched.

Sources:; Times-Tribune;;;;;;;