Allegheny County Jail guard at center of brutality lawsuit has faced charges before
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An Allegheny County Jail corrections officer who is the subject of a brutality lawsuit that was recently transferred to federal court has faced past allegations that he sneaked contraband into the facility, allowed inmates to settle a score like gladiators in a gym and harassed a fellow guard.
Daniel K. Kovacs Jr., 42, of Bethel Park is a nationally competitive weight lifter who can be seen on YouTube lifting hundreds of pounds above his head or from a bench, and hoisting more than 800 pounds to nearly waist level. He is accused in the lawsuit of beating inmate Robert D. Polzer, 37, of the North Side, who his attorney said weighs around 150 pounds.
Polzer had been in the county jail awaiting trial for rape. He was convicted and is now serving time at SCI Smithfield, where his attorney Jeff Weinberg said he will be locked up for around five more years.
"Kovacs evidently has a real ax to grind with certain sex offenders," Mr. Weinberg said. When Mr. Kovacs saw Polzer out of his cell at count time, according to Mr. Weinberg, the guard "charges up the steps, starts calling him a [derogatory name] and starts beating the hell out of the guy. So much so that another corrections officer has to pull Kovacs off."
Mr. Kovacs could not be reached for comment.
The county is also a defendant in the lawsuit. A county spokeswoman declined comment, other than to confirm that Mr. Kovacs joined the jail staff in 1998 and earned $70,668 last year.
The lawsuit said that in January 2010 Mr. Kovacs beat Polzer to the point that he required medical and psychological care. The complaint alleged that the jail initially sent Polzer to disciplinary custody rather than the infirmary. Polzer was then charged with aggravated assault, riot, failure to disperse and fighting, but was found not guilty of all of those charges at a nonjury trial in January.
Mr. Weinberg said the charges were trumped up by guards who wanted to "protect themselves" against a lawsuit. Because Polzer prevailed at trial, though, his civil claim stands a chance, the attorney said.
The complaint accused Mr. Kovacs of violating Polzer's rights not to endure unlawful search and seizure and cruel and unusual punishment, and his right to due process. Because those are federal civil rights, county attorneys moved the case from the Common Pleas Court to U.S. District Court. The complaint also accused Mr. Kovacs of assault and battery and malicious prosecution.
Mr. Weinberg said that because he is accusing the county of having a pattern and practice of ignoring brutality, other acts by Mr. Kovacs may be relevant to the case.
Mr. Kovacs was found not guilty in 2006, at a nonjury trial, on two counts of bringing contraband into the jail.
In late December 2011, a jail video camera caught a fight clublike scene on the jail's eighth level that Mr. Kovacs then supervised.
Inmates cleared the gym and then gathered around windows while two of their number faced off, according to a written internal report of the incident. While Mr. Kovacs watched carefully, the inmates fought with fists and then grappled on the ground. Then other inmates entered the gym to break up the fight and mop the floor, the report said.
Other internal documents indicate that Mr. Kovacs was placed off duty for a time but came back to work Feb. 12, 2012. A county spokeswoman would not say whether Mr. Kovacs was ever suspended for disciplinary reasons.
Then last month, corrections Officer Leann Weber filed a protection from abuse order, or PFA, against Mr. Kovacs, accusing him of calling her at work and asking "personal questions" and making threats including "to have me beat up." Ms. Weber, 25, wrote that Mr. Kovacs "has previously been physically and verbally abusive" to her. Last week the PFA was reduced to a do-not-contact order.
County spokeswoman Amie Downs said that Mr. Kovacs remains on active duty, but that she could not comment on litigation or personnel matters.
She said jail policy calls for investigations of any accusation that a corrections officer ignored inmate-on-inmate violence, with discipline if the charge is sustained.
If an officer uses force against an inmate, jail administration checks surveillance video tape and refers the matter to internal affairs for discipline if the force was not justified.
If an officer is accused of harassing another officer in the jail, human resources reviews the incident.
Jail employees have faced several well-publicized abuse charges lately.
Last month, former major of the guard James Donis, 50, of Shaler was sentenced to five years of probation, including eight months at a halfway house, for filing a false report on a 2010 incident in which he punched a would-be escapee in the face. Documents filed in a related civil lawsuit indicate that ranking jail officials -- all of whom have moved on to other jobs -- consented to a cover-up.
Former corrections officer Arii Metz, 34, of the North Side is scheduled to plead guilty today in federal court to deprivation of civil rights. He is accused of beating former inmate David Kipp in 2010.
Mr. Weinberg said people should not discount acts of violence just because the victims were inmates.
"When you're incarcerated, you're helpless," he said. "You're there at their mercy."
First Published March 4, 2013 12:00 am