Witnesses say they were abused by ex-prison guard

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The jury in the trial of former corrections officer Harry F. Nicoletti Jr. heard today from an inmate who described himself as "the intimidator."

Patrick Hogan, 32, a robber, was at the State Correctional Institution Pittsburgh's F Block during 2010, when, according to inmates, Mr. Nicoletti was singling out prisoners viewed as pedophiles for abuse.

Hogan said Mr. Nicoletti gave speeches to new arrivals on the block. "He would say, 'What're you here for?'" and continue until the convict confessed his crime, Hogan said. "He would grab them by the back of the neck, push them into the wall."

Mr. Nicoletti "would say to people, 'If you say anything to anybody, I'm going to let this guy right here F you up,'" Hogan testified, saying he was the guy.

Hogan said that another inmate, who he viewed as "mentally challenged," was subjected to persistent hazing at the prompting of Mr. Nicoletti. The Post-Gazette will not name that inmate because he is allegedly a victim of institutional sexual assault.

A corrections officer peed on the inmate's bed, according to Hogan. Then at meal time Mr. Nicoletti put peas down his shirt back, mashed potatoes on his head and gravy down his neck, Hogan said.

Later the inmate was ordered to strip, and Mr. Nicoletti pointed a broom handle at his bottom, Hogan said. "It did touch him," he said of the broom handle. "I don't know if it went in."

Later, Hogan said, Mr. Nicoletti pushed the inmate's head in a toilet and flushed it "multiple times."

Food tampering followed, Hogan said. "Officer Nicoletti would put cigarette ashes into one of the condiments, mix it with his finger, spit into another portion of his food."

Mr. Nicoletti ordered the inmate to stand for hours, and sometimes jump up and down for extended periods. "I actually started feeling sorry for the guy," said Hogan.

Hogan corroborated the account Wednesday of former F Block inmate Jerry Shoemaker, who said that Mr. Nicoletti exposed himself in a cell. When Assistant District Attorney Jon Pittman's asked about several other former F Block inmates who are expected to testify later, Hogan said that Mr. Nicoletti smacked them.

Shoemaker underwent cross-examination by defense attorney Steve Colafella today, and admitted that in three written reports, he never indicated that Mr. Nicoletti slapped him -- something he claimed in testimony yesterday. Later, though, two Department of Corrections employees and one former F Block inmate backed different parts of Shoemaker's account, which forms the basis of six of the 89 counts against Mr. Nicoletti.

Testimony began Wednesday and could run for three weeks.

A former colleague of Mr. Nicoletti, Tory Kelly, 41, of Aliquippa, was convicted last month on four counts related to an inmate's abuse allegations, and acquitted on 10 counts, and faces a March sentencing.

Two other former colleagues await trial, also before Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge David R. Cashman. Three faced charges that have since been dismissed or dropped. None but Mr. Nicoletti were accused of sexual crimes.

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


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