The first inmate called to testify at the trial of former prison officer Tory Kelly today said the abuse he suffered "wasn't a big deal," but his former cellmate who was nearby described it in starker terms.
Steven Arthur Friend Jr., 24, of Uniontown, was just starting a sentence for statutory sexual assault of someone under 16 when he arrived at the State Correctional Institution Pittsburgh's F Block in December 2010, he said. A few days after his arrival, Corrections Officer Harry F. Nicoletti and Mr. Kelly, 41, of Aliquippa, saw that he had violated procedure by putting his coat in another inmate's cell, and began interrogating him, Friend testified.
Mr. Nicoletti, 61, of Coraopolis, slapped him in the head once in his cell, and later near the cell block shower, Friend testified before Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge David Cashman.
"That traumatized me," said Friend. "Nicoletti shouldn't have put his hands on me, and Kelly should have stuck up for me."
Later he said that Mr. Kelly "didn't really do nothing to me except talk, frankly, dirty and egg Nicoletti on."
Mr. Nicoletti faces trial next month on 89 counts related to a wide range of alleged abuses of inmates.
Friend's former cellmate, Robert A. Williams, who is imprisoned on armed robbery charges, testified that he was outside of the cell during the first encounter, which lasted five or six minutes. He identified Mr. Kelly as one of three officers who entered the cell to confront Friend, but said he did not see what went on inside.
"I heard smacks," said Williams. "I heard Steve, sounded like he was crying." After the encounter Friend had red blotches on his face, Williams said. Friend's belongings were scattered about the cell, Williams said.
"I ended up staying up the whole night with [Friend]," said Williams. Why? "If he kills himself while I'm in the cell with him, I get in trouble."
Veronica Brestensky, one of the attorneys representing Mr. Kelly, asked Williams if he might get early parole for testifying on behalf of the prosecution.
"I'm doing what's right," said Williams. "I don't see how I benefit from it at all. If anything, I'm putting myself in danger" because corrections officers at his current prison could retaliate against him for testifying against one of their own.
Mr. Kelly is the first of four former SCI Pittsburgh inmates to face trial following inmate accusations that they singled out prisoners convicted of sex crimes with minors for harassment and sometimes brutal abuse.
Rich Lord: email@example.com, 412-263-1542 or Twitter @richelord