Investigators at the Allegheny County Jail are trying to determine whether a corrections officer beat an inmate earlier this month, causing facial injuries so severe that a lawyer last week warned the court that the man is not safe at the facility.
Neither Warden Ramon Rustin nor Allegheny County police inspector Christopher Kearns, who is in charge of internal affairs at the jail, would confirm an investigation into the injuries sustained by David Kipp, 24, of Polish Hill, while in jail custody. In fact, the warden would not even confirm that Mr. Kipp was hurt.
But county spokeswoman Megan Dardanell said Tuesday, "There is an incident at the county jail that is currently under investigation involving an alleged assault on an inmate by a correctional officer."
Pittsburgh police arrested Mr. Kipp Oct. 13 and charged him with aggravated assault for stabbing roommate Matthew Naccarato in the arm during an argument.
Officers also filed numerous drug charges against Mr. Kipp, Mr. Naccarato, 25, and another roommate, Timothy Fishinghawk-Irish, 24, after finding Ecstasy, LSD, mushrooms, marijuana and pills at their home, according to a police affidavit.
When Mr. Kipp was booked into the jail some time after 3 a.m. on Oct. 13, he had no apparent facial injuries, as depicted in a mug shot obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
But during a brief appearance at a preliminary hearing Thursday, eight days later, Mr. Kipp was observed sporting medical tape that crisscrossed his face in an "X" at the bridge of his nose. Another strip ran above his upper lip. Much of the scleras, or whites, of both his eyes were blood-red.
"This kid was assaulted. He was clearly beaten up," said attorney Kevin Abramovitz, who met with Mr. Kipp at the jail Tuesday night. Mr. Abramovitz added that he did not believe another inmate was responsible for Mr. Kipp's injuries. He also said, "I don't believe he received immediate medical attention."
Mr. Abramovitz declined to give information about his client's current housing situation at the jail. Asked about his safety, Mr. Abramovitz would say only, "I will do everything in my power to get him out of jail as quickly as possible."
According to sources, the investigation involving jail personnel and county police was launched after Mr. Kipp sustained a broken nose and severe bruising to the area around his eye.
Mr. Kipp's father, Robert L. Kipp, 50, said his son also had a broken bone behind his ear and that he was unable to eat solid food for a period of time because of jaw pain.
Mr. Fishinghawk-Irish said he was in a holding cell next to Mr. Kipp's individual cell when the incident occurred. He said Mr. Kipp was yelling, rattling his cell door for several minutes and demanding to make a phone call when three correctional officers entered the cell.
"I heard them hit him, and I saw what he looked like after. You ever seen a piece of raw meat? Half of his face looked like that," Mr. Fishinghawk-Irish said Tuesday.
"The only thing that separated us was brick. The door was open. We could hear everything," Mr. Fishinghawk-Irish said.
"It was the COs. I watched them walk into the room. I heard body strikes," Mr. Fishinghawk-Irish said. "I heard them throw him and then I heard him get struck."
Mr. Fishinghawk-Irish said he heard Mr. Kipp being hit roughly a dozen times. He said the three guards were "really big." Mr. Kipp is described on his arrest paperwork as 5-feet-11 and either 160 or 170 pounds.
Mr. Naccarato said he was not in the holding cell during the alleged assault on Mr. Kipp but was brought there shortly after.
"I could hear him crying, and he wasn't ready to be moved," Mr. Naccarato said. "I couldn't even recognize him when they brought him out ... His face was black and blue and the whole right side of his face was puffed out almost double."
On Thursday afternoon Mr. Kipp attended a preliminary hearing on the assault charge at the Pittsburgh Municipal Courts Building.
The case was postponed because the victim, Mr. Naccarato, did not show up. He said he was given the wrong date by a police officer.
But Mr. Kipp's public defender, Georgene Siroky, appealed for Judge James J. Hanley Jr. to reduce her client's bond.
"Mr. Kipp is not safe in jail," Ms. Siroky told the judge. "It's just apparent that the court can't keep him safe in that facility."
Ms. Siroky showed Judge Hanley a picture of Mr. Kipp at the time he was booked on the assault charge, in which he had no apparent injuries.
Judge Hanley reduced Mr. Kipp's bail to non-monetary, but he told Ms. Siroky he could do nothing to affect the bail on the drug case, which is set at $50,000. Mr. Kipp faces a preliminary hearing today on those charges.
"Ms. Siroky from the public defender's office did show me a picture of the defendant at the time he was arraigned, he was booked, and his face looked pretty normal to me. Obviously it looked like he got attacked ... at some point in time," Judge Hanley said.
"I just did one of those double takes. Holy smokes. He went in there as good as expected. He looks like he really got a job done on him," Judge Hanley said. "When somebody goes into that facility they have the right to be protected."
Mr. Rustin would not discuss how, when or whether Mr. Kipp was injured and declined to reveal his current housing conditions.
Mr. Kipp's father said Tuesday he had not been able to see his son save for the brief court appearance last week. Mr. Kipp buried his head in his hands and broke down after being confronted with his son's heavily bandaged face.
"It's devastating," Mr. Kipp said. "I understand the stresses involved and the kind of sense of entitlement that kind of job gives you, but it's incumbent on the officer to have restraint and to understand this is a troubled young man. It's the responsibility of the county to police that and maintain professionalism in the guards."
Jonathan D. Silver: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1962.