In Pittsburgh prison abuse trial, inmate says he was told to beat offenders

Claims guard Nicoletti gave the orders

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The inmate whose lawsuit first publicly detailed the accusations against Pittsburgh prison officers testified Thursday in the criminal trial of former guard Harry F. Nicoletti Jr.

Mr. Nicoletti, 61, of Coraopolis sat stoically as the inmate alleged a series of sordid encounters and a pattern of abuse of other prisoners. Mr. Nicoletti's attorney sought to portray the inmate's account as a wild exaggeration.

The inmate -- whose name is being withheld because he is alleging that he was sexually abused -- said that he and another inmate named Richard Cavallero were enlisted scores of times to beat up prisoners who were viewed as pedophiles.

"Is that what you're telling us?" defense attorney Steve Colafella asked the inmate. "Fifty times, [Mr. Nicoletti] had you and Mr. Cavallero do this, 50 times? And he never got caught?"

The inmate said that was his testimony. Corrections officers, he said, "don't get in trouble. ... Officers, they know that. That's why they do what they do."

Thirteen of the 89 criminal counts against Mr. Nicoletti relate to the inmate, a 25-year-old robber who spent much of the past seven years at the State Correctional Institution Pittsburgh but is now imprisoned elsewhere.

The inmate said he was one of several inmates used by Mr. Nicoletti to harass sex offenders who were placed on F Block. "It would be the weak ones, the old white ones," the inmate said.

The inmate said Mr. Nicoletti once got him thrown into restrictive housing, where time out of the cell is restricted to an hour a day and showers are rare.

When the inmate resisted Mr. Nicoletti's instructions, the officer said, "You know, I'm good with creative writing," according to the inmate. He interpreted that as a threat to trump up a disciplinary charge.

The inmate said that three times Mr. Nicoletti exposed himself and asked for sexual stimulation.

The inmate has filed a civil lawsuit in federal court, one of seven by former residents of F Block who are seeking compensation. Earlier Thursday, the jury heard from another inmate who described himself as "the intimidator."

Patrick Hogan, 32, a robber, said Mr. Nicoletti "would say to people, 'If you say anything to anybody, I'm going to let this guy right here F you up.'"

Hogan said that another inmate, whom he viewed as "mentally challenged," was subjected to persistent hazing at the prompting of Mr. Nicoletti. The Post-Gazette will not name that inmate because he is allegedly a victim of institutional sexual assault.

Mr. Nicoletti put mashed potatoes on the head of the mentally challenged inmate and poured gravy down his neck. He also forced him to stand or jump for long periods of time, and pushed his head in a toilet, Hogan said.

Testimony began Wednesday and could run for three weeks.

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Rich Lord:, 412-263-1542 and on Twitter: @richelord.


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