Inmate accusations against guard pile up

Defense puts focus on inconsistencies

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Inmates continued Friday to accuse former corrections officer Harry F. Nicoletti Jr. of abusing them at the State Correctional Institution Pittsburgh in 2010, but the ex-guard's attorney sought to shift the focus to inconsistencies in their accounts.

It was the third day of testimony in what is expected to be a three-week trial of the 61-year-old Coraopolis man accused of being the ringleader of a circus of alleged abuses of inmates who were viewed as pedophiles.

Randy Jones, 24, of Verona told a jury in Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge David R. Cashman's courtroom that he was placed on SCI Pittsburgh's F Block in late December 2010. Jones said that Mr. Nicoletti grilled him on his charges.

After he confirmed that he was imprisoned for a sex crime -- involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a 12-year-old -- Mr. Nicoletti "jumps out of his chair, comes over to me and strikes me on the side of my face," Jones said.

Later Mr. Nicoletti and another officer came to his cell and ordered him to strip, Jones said. He claimed that Mr. Nicoletti kicked him, so he fell to his knees. Then the guard exposed himself, Jones said. The other officer urged Mr. Nicoletti to do nothing further, Jones said, and they left.

On cross-examination by defense attorney Steve Colafella, Jones admitted that he told no one -- despite multiple visits from investigators -- about the incident in the cell until a year later, when he testified at Mr. Nicoletti's preliminary hearing.

Mr. Colafella held one of Jones' handwritten accounts. "Nowhere in those three handwritten pages do you say anything about my client exposing himself to you," he said.

"That is true," Jones said. "I never told." He said he was too embarrassed about it.

Mr. Colafella's theory is that inmates shared notes and have made ever-worsening accusations to get back at guards, gain points toward parole or advance lawsuits. Jones is among seven former F Block inmates who have sued prison officers and managers, alleging abuse.

Last month, Jones testified that former corrections officer Tory Kelly beat and threatened him. That resulted in the conviction of Mr. Kelly, 41, of Aliquippa, on four of the 14 counts he faced.

Earlier Friday, another former inmate testified that when he was identified as a sex offender, Mr. Nicoletti ordered him to run up and down F Block's halls, slapped him, grabbed his pants (touching his penis) and poured water into his pants. Then, he said, another inmate beat him up.

The inmate making those accusations -- who the Post-Gazette will not identify because the charges based on his testimony include sexual assault -- contradicted several of the statements attributed to him in investigators' reports. The inmate also said Mr. Nicoletti abused him in the morning, but the guard worked the 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. shift. The inmate said he suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

The trial continues Monday.

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


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