Once the major in charge of Allegheny County Jail guards, James Donis today pleaded guilty to falsifying reports to impede a federal investigation and could face upward of a year in federal prison following sentencing.
Mr. Donis, 50, of Shaler, agreed after prosecutors said he beat an inmate and then, a year later, added to his incident report a false claim that the inmate resisted and disobeyed orders.
He declined comment after his plea hearing.
On April 6, 2010, inmate Gary W. Barbour tried to escape through jail vents, and was caught in the mechanical room, Assistant U.S. Attorney Shaun Sweeney said at the hearing.
There, Mr. Sweeney said, Mr. Donis "punched Barbour several times in the face" despite the fact that the inmate did not resist.
A year later, Mr. Donis learned that the FBI was investigating. He prepared a false addendum to his report saying that Barbour was "combative" and "refused to comply with commands" and "attempted to break free," Mr. Sweeney said.
As part of a plea agreement, the government will drop charges of deprivation of civil rights and making false statements to law enforcement.
Sentencing guidelines suggest that Mr. Donis could face 12 to 18 months in prison. His attorney, Charles Porter, said he will argue for a sentence of probation with home detention.
Sentencing is set for Feb. 20, and in addition to confinement Mr. Donis could be forced to pay restitution.
Barbour is suing Allegheny County in civil court. His attorney, Ron Barber, said the plea helps his case because Mr. Donis acknowledged responsibility for the beating.
Rich Lord: email@example.com or 412-263-1542. First Published October 15, 2012 3:00 PM