Ex-Allegheny County Jail guard sentenced to probation for punching inmate

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A former Allegheny County Jail corrections officer who repeatedly punched an inmate in 2010 was sentenced today to five years of probation, including 14 months of home confinement.

Arii L. Metz, 35, of the North Side, repeatedly struck then-inmate David Kipp, then pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to violating his civil rights. Federal sentencing guidelines suggested that he could face about four years in prison.

U.S. District Judge Nora Barry Fischer’s decision to sentence him to probation came after an hour and a half of impassioned debate between assistant U.S. attorney Amy L. Johnston and defense attorney James Wymard. Much of it focused on the fate of Metz’s seven-year-old son.

“He’s lost his mother. He’s lost his grandmother, who was a surrogate mother,” Mr. Wymard said of Metz’s son. “If you were to remove Arii … it would be absolutely devastating.”

“He should not be using his son as a scapegoat here,” said Ms. Johnston. “It’s not particularly relevant, your honor, that he goes to the playground” with his son.

Judge Fischer, though, said the lack of any other adequate caregiver for the son outweighed the need to punish the crime, which she characterized as serious.

“I am concerned that a sentence in the advisory guidelines in this case would cause irreparable harm to the defendant’s son,” she said, noting the son’s diagnosis of extreme anxiety disorder. “But for the child, Mr. Metz, this would’ve likely been a sentence of incarceration."

The judge said the home confinement would include electronic monitoring. Metz must also perform 200 hours of community service, undergo drug testing and anger management counseling, and submit his son to a psychological evaluation.

He must also pay a $2,000 fine and $651 in restitution, reflecting Kipp’s medical bills.

Kipp, who appeared repeatedly at hearings in the criminal and civil cases related to the incident and publicly forgave Metz, died a week ago in Stanton Heights at the age of 27. The Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office indicated today that the cause and manner of the death haven’t yet been determined.

Kipp sued Metz, Allegheny County and the former jail healthcare provider, Allegheny Correctional Health Services. The county paid him $4,000 and Allegheny Correctional paid $2,500 to settle the cases. A federal judge also entered a judgment of $7,500 for Kipp against Metz.

Metz has paid $3,250 of that judgment, the judge said, and must pay the rest.

“Some people might say a probationary sentence is a lighter, if you will, sentence,” said the judge.

She said probation with conditions “can be a lot tougher than being in a minimum security facility or camp facility.”

Mr. Wymard also argued that Metz, as a former guard, would be victimized in prison.

“It’s the gangs that run the prisons,” especially the federal prisons, the defense attorney said. “Arii is going to be alone to have to defend himself against the gangs.”

Ms. Johnston countered that there were some 1,000 former law enforcement personnel in federal prisons, and the system is able to accommodate them.

In addition, Mr. Wymard argued that Kipp contributed to the crime by misbehaving in jail, and that the medical billing firm at which Metz works might close, costing eight jobs, if he is incarcerated.

The judge said she wasn't heavily swayed by those arguments.

“I’m just glad that it’s finally over," Metz said after the three-hour sentencing hearing. "It’s been the longest three years of my life. I’d like to thank the judge for what she did and to send my condolences to David’s family.”

Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542. Twitter: @richelord.

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