A federal appeals court on Tuesday affirmed a judge's dismissal of a lawsuit by three former top administrators at the State Correctional Institution Pittsburgh, finding that their firing and the prison system's announcement that the facility was going in a "new direction" didn't violate their rights.
Former SCI Pittsburgh Superintendent Melvin Lockett, former Deputy Superintendent of Centralized Services Janis Niemec and former Deputy Superintendent for Facilities Management Martin Kovacs were fired in 2011 in the wake of prisoner allegations of abuse by corrections officers on the prison's F Block. The three argued, among other things, that by firing them as the allegations were emerging, and using the term "new direction," the Department of Corrections was promoting the false impression that they were culpable for the abuse and stigmatizing them.
The three "failed to allege facts that would support a finding that [corrections secretary John Wetzel's] public remarks were substantially and materially false," the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found. "Given its vague nature, Wetzel's statement cannot easily be proven false."