Three more prison guards sue over SCI Pittsburgh probe
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The State Correctional Institution Pittsburgh's F Block investigation spurred its 10th lawsuit Thursday as three officers who were suspended following inmate abuse allegations sued top corrections officials in federal court.
Suing are Sean Storey, 27, of Mount Washington; Jerome Lynch, 36, of the North Side; and Kevin Johnson, 58, of Clairton. The defendants are Corrections Secretary John Wetzel, his top deputy and two former SCI Pittsburgh wardens.
Their complaint, by attorney Eric Stoltenberg, said officials violated the officers' due process rights for a year starting in April 2011.
"There's no question that the Department of Corrections walked these guys out, told them that they were suspended without pay or benefits pending investigation, and gave them no allegations," said Mr. Stoltenberg. They got the hearings required under their labor contract around a year later, he said.
The investigation eventually resulted in criminal charges against seven officers, who were accused of having various roles in harassing or abusing prisoners who were perceived as pedophiles. Charges against three were dismissed or dropped, one was convicted of four counts, and three await trial.
Mr. Lynch is one of those awaiting trial, facing seven counts of simple assault, official oppression, criminal solicitation and conspiracy. Trial is set to start Feb. 5. He has been fired.
Mr. Storey faced three criminal charges, all of which were dismissed. He has decided not to return to the department, said Mr. Stoltenberg.
Mr. Johnson has never been criminally charged and remains employed at the prison. Mr. Stoltenberg said he was demoted from sergeant to corrections officer, and a separate grievance aims to reverse that demotion.
A department spokeswoman declined comment, citing a policy against talking about litigation.
The officers want back pay for the year they were suspended, compensation for out-of-pocket expenses, interest and attorney fees. Five other officers filed a similar lawsuit in November.
Seven inmates have sued department officials alleging abuse. Three former top SCI Pittsburgh managers sued the department over their terminations, lost in U.S. District Court and appealed to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
"Allegations by inmates against corrections officers are a dime a dozen," Mr. Stoltenberg said. "You can't be reacting to them by just saying, 'OK, we're suspending this person without pay.'
"When a person has a property interest in their job, as these men do, you cannot just decide for political purposes, or whatever might look good to the media or the public, to overreact to allegations and trample someone's rights."
Former corrections officer Tory Kelly faces sentencing in March for striking and intimidating an inmate. Ex-corrections officer Harry Nicoletti faces trial next week on 89 counts spurred by inmate allegations of abuse.
First Published January 4, 2013 12:00 am