Prison guards accused of inmate beatings

The Westmoreland County Prison Board yesterday fired four corrections officers allegedly involved in an inmate-beating scandal that is under investigation by the district attorney.

Two other guards connected with the brutality allegations have resigned, while another who had been suspended was reinstated yesterday.

The board’s actions stemmed from a complaint by former inmate James Edwards, 27.

Mr. Edwards accused four guards of manhandling him during his stay at the county jail between June 4 and June 16. County officials said his injuries were not severe, and the warden said X-rays were negative.

Mr. Edwards had been picked up in Pennsylvania on a violation of his early release conditions in Texas, where he did time for attempted capital murder, robbery and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

“The board clearly felt there was enough evidence raised not just from the allegations of Edwards but from some other guards that there was some evidence of prisoner abuse, and frankly that’s intolerable,” said Ted Kopas, spokesman for Tom Balya, chairman of the county commissioners and a prison board member.

Fired were Officer Steven Greenawalt, Sgt. Marc Hutchison, Sgt. Randy Miller and Sgt. Jonathan Billheimer.

“All of them had a role in it,” Mr. Kopas said.

Exactly what role and whether any actions were criminal will be up to District Attorney John Peck to decide, according to Mr. Kopas.

Mr. Peck could not be reached for comment.

Two other guards who were implicated in the scandal — Christopher Pickard and Craig Petrus — resigned. And Casey Mullooly, president of the union local that represents corrections officers, was reinstated after being suspended without pay pending investigation.

None of the guards could be reached for comment.

Warden John R. Walton said he could not discuss the specific allegations involving Mr. Edwards. He did say, though, that whatever allegedly occurred took place during an “interview” with the inmate in an area where there were no cameras. That has sparked a policy change.

“All interviews will be conducted in the presence of a camera. That’s for our protection as well as the inmates,” Mr. Walton said.

Mr. Walton put a positive spin on the firings.

“You’re gonna have some bad officers at times. … We investigated it. We didn’t try to cover it up. We acted on it firmly.”


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