Lawsuit claiming SCI Pittsburgh F Block abuses partially dismissed

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A federal judge today partially dismissed the lawsuit that first detailed allegations of abuses on the State Correctional Institution Pittsburgh's F Block, but some of its claims remain.

In the lawsuit, an unidentified former inmate of the prison claimed Corrections Officer Harry Nicoletti repeatedly demanded sexual stimulation, and threatened punishment if he did not get it. Another officer, perhaps working with Mr. Nicoletti, choked the inmate during a search for a cell phone, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit outlined what it said was systematic hazing of sex offender inmates -- a process into which the plaintiff claims the officers recruited the inmate, a thief.

Prison officials were made aware of the incidents first through the inmate's complaints, and then through efforts by the inmate's parents to alert top Department of Corrections officials, but did not stop them, according to the lawsuit.

The 2011 lawsuit preceded the filing of criminal charges against Mr. Nicoletti and six other officers. Mr. Nicoletti, who has since been suspended, and three other officers still face charges, have pleaded not guilty, and are scheduled for trials that could start this fall and winter.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan ruled that the inmate could not sue the state or its employees for actions taken in their official capacities because they are generally immune from suit and the complaint does not show a pattern or practice of constitutional violations. The department is dismissed as a defendant.

The judge ruled that claims that Mr. Nicoletti and several fired prison managers violated the inmate's rights in their individual actions -- as opposed to their official actions -- remain viable.

The department is defending its former managers and would pay any judgment against them, but is not defending or indemnifying Mr. Nicoletti.

The civil suit is among six stemming from alleged abuses on F Block, which are moving forward in a group overseen by Judge Lenihan.

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


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