curbcrime

Prison guard in Pittsburgh held on 92 abuse counts

In prison abuse on September 29, 2011 at 7:13 am

A suspended correctional officer from Pittsburgh’s state prison was arrested Tuesday and charged with 92 criminal counts alleging that he sexually and physically abused more than 20 inmates under his control.

Harry Nicoletti, 59, of Coraopolis, Pa., was arraigned Tuesday night and held in the Allegheny County Jail on $75,000 bond.

He is charged with 10 counts of institutional sexual assault, two counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, 27 counts of official oppression, 13 counts of criminal solicitation, eight counts of indecent assault, six counts of indecent exposure, multiple counts of simple assault and terroristic threats and one count of criminal attempt.

The charges date to early 2009 and include allegations ranging from slapping inmates with an open hand, to forcing their heads into toilets and repeatedly flushing them, to having other inmates urinate in the food of convicted sex offenders, to rape and forced oral sex.

In some instances, Nicoletti rewarded inmates who committed violations on his behalf, the complaint said.

The ongoing investigation into abuse at SCI Pittsburgh — with 1,769 inmates — began in late 2010, said Susan McNaughton, a Pennsylvania Department of Corrections spokeswoman.

The department’s Office of Special Investigations and Intelligence then joined with the Allegheny County district attorney’s office several months ago. The county also presented testimony to an investigating grand jury.

Nicoletti, a corrections department employee since November 2001, was suspended without pay Jan. 5.

According to the 34-page criminal complaint, Nicoletti — assigned to the 2 to 10 p.m. shift on prison’s reception unit — primarily targeted inmates who had been convicted of sex crimes against children or those who were gay or transgender.

The most serious allegations charge Nicoletti with raping a transgender inmate twice and attempting to use a broom to sodomize a mentally challenged inmate who had been convicted of sexually assaulting a child.

Six inmates, unidentified in the complaint, are characterized as victims of some form of sexual assault. Sixteen additional inmates are named as victims.

One inmate “stated that new inmate arrivals convicted of sex offenses involving children were sought out and abused by the defendant.”

One inmate, convicted of murder, said he physically assaulted more than 15 other inmates at Nicoletti’s direction.

In some instances, those inmates who abused others were rewarded — sometimes with cigarettes, pizza, snuff and even prescription drugs such as Vicodin.

Seven other corrections officers were suspended in April, McNaughton said, and SCI Pittsburgh’s leadership team was changed in May.

Just days before the criminal charges were brought against Nicoletti, a federal lawsuit was filed naming him and seven other corrections officers and the Corrections Department, alleging a “common plan and conspiracy to sexually abuse, physically abuse and mentally abuse inmates who were homosexual,” along with those who were transgender or convicted of sex crimes.

Nicoletti, in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story Friday, denied the lawsuit’s allegations. “There is no truth to any of this whatsoever,” he said.

(Contact Paula Reed Ward at pward(at)post-gazette.com.)

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com.)

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