James Donis, who worked at the Allegheny County Jail for 22 years reaching the rank of major of the guards, will not serve prison time but will have to live in a halfway house following sentencing today on a charge of falsifying reports in relation to allegations that he beat an inmate in 2010.
U.S. District Judge Gustave Diamond found that federal guidelines suggested a range of 12 to 18 months in prison for Donis. He sentenced the 50-year-old Shaler man to five years of probation, including eight months at Downtown's Renewal Inc. community correctional facility.
"The underlying act that brought this all about was, I believe, an aberrant act," said Judge Diamond. "I don't believe that this defendant is the type that should be sentenced at [the federal prison in] Lewisburg."
Donis was initially charged in November 2011 with deprivation of civil rights related to an April 6, 2010, apprehension of would-be escapee Gary Barbour and two charges related to his subsequent reporting to the jail and FBI.
Donis was accused of punching Barbour in the face.
In a plea bargain, the two other charges were dropped in return for his admission of guilt to false reporting.
"I made a big mistake, there's no doubt in my mind," Donis told Judge Diamond. "Please don't judge me just on this one incident in 23 years."
Donis made no other statement to the judge and said nothing after the hearing.
His defense attorney, Charles Porter, argued for home confinement.
"We have a very short, 30-second, minute blip on the radar, if you will, in the process of apprehending an escaping felon," Mr. Porter said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Shaun Sweeney argued for prison time, saying that while Donis led a good life other than the events for which he was charged, the courts needed to send a message to the corrections community.
"He did this punching in front of a bunch of subordinates," Mr. Sweeney said. "The corrections officers in the Western District of Pennsylvania are gong to be watching closely."
Around 55 people submitted letters of support for Donis and a half-dozen testified for him today.
Donis had earned $68,631 as one of the jail's top four managers.
After the incident involving Barbour, Donis submitted a report that didn't mention use of force. Mr. Porter said he was encouraged to leave out the use of force by a superior.
After the FBI began looking into the incident, Donis revised the report to falsely claim that force was needed to subdue the inmate.
A May 14 hearing is scheduled to determine how much restitution Donis must pay Barbour.
Rich Lord: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1542 and on Twitter: @richelord.