State settles inmates' sex abuse lawsuits

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The Department of Corrections has agreed to pay $163,000 to settle lawsuits by two former inmates of the State Correctional Institution Pittsburgh who said they were abused during short stays in the lockup, according to an attorney who represented the plaintiffs.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan closed one of the cases Friday, confirming its settlement. A Department of Corrections spokeswoman could not immediately confirm the settlements.

Both former inmates claimed that they were sexually abused. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette does not name people who allege that they were sexually abused.

One of the former inmates, who is transgender, is slated to get $98,000 from the state, according to one of their attorneys, Steve Barth. The two were also represented by Aaron Rihn and Scott Simon of Robert Peirce & Associates.

The first inmate claimed that he was raped while housed in SCI Pittsburgh's F Block.

The settlement, reached during a three-day mediation that ended Wednesday, "shows that the Department of Corrections is taking some responsibility for what happened there in that situation," Mr. Barth said. "By paying that amount, they recognize there was something going on at SCI Pittsburgh and [the plaintiff] was at least a victim of some of that."

The plaintiff testified at the criminal trial of former corrections officer Harry F. Nicoletti, who was found guilty of one count of official oppression against the former inmate, but not guilty on six counts involving alleged sexual acts.

The one guilty verdict "helped the case," Mr. Barth said.

Nicoletti was found guilty of 27 counts related to his interactions with inmates, and not guilty on 53 counts, including all of the alleged sexual crimes. He was sentenced to probation.

The second former inmate also accused Nicoletti of a variety of abuses, and the criminal jury last year found the former corrections officer not guilty on all counts.

That former inmate will receive $65,000 from the state, Mr. Barth said.

Mr. Barth said that the civil proceeding, unlike the criminal prosecution, "focused on the institution, the policy and procedures, the training, what was going on there to make sure [corrections officers] were trained and able to do their jobs in a professional way that did not put anyone at risk."

He said it sounds like prison staff "are doing the right thing now, or at least trying."

The U.S. Department of Justice announced last week that it was closing a probe of SCI Pittsburgh, noting that the facility had taken important steps to improve conditions.

Both former inmates are now free and are trying to move past their prison experiences and lead normal lives, Mr. Barth said.


Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1542 or on Twitter @richelord. First Published January 17, 2014 6:39 PM


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