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. Continue reading

Ex-guard attests to alleged inmate abuse at Westmoreland County Prison

A Westmoreland County Prison inmate was taken out of his cell, punched, choked, kicked and threatened with death as punishment for talking back to a guard, according to a statement given by a corrections officer who said he witnessed the incident.

Part-time guard Christopher Pickard of West Leechburg told investigators that union officials and several other officers concocted a cover story after the assault on James Edwards, 27, and attempted to persuade Pickard to go along with it to derail an internal investigation, according to his written statement. Continue reading

Guard fired after locking new hire in with inmate

A western Pennsylvania county prison guard has been fired over a prank in which a new guard was locked in a cell with an inmate involved in a police shootout. Blair County officials didn’t release the guards’ names, but confirmed the incident after The Altoona Mirror received an anonymous report.

The report said the new guard was locked with the inmate for 20 minutes by a guard who wanted to see what the new hire was made of.

The inmate, accused of shooting at Altoona police in November, filed a complaint with the NAACP.

But Blair County Commissioner Terry Tomassetti said the new hire was the target, not the inmate.

Tomassetti says it was “just picking on a new employee,” but still serious, and officials don’t want it to happen again


Ex-guard gets probation for forcing inmates to sing nursery rhymes, bark like dogs

A former corrections officer at Westmoreland County Prison will serve probation after pleading guilty Monday to forcing inmates to kneel and sing nursery rhymes and bark like dogs.

Scott A. Rogers, 39, of Mt. Pleasant was a 10-year guard before he was charged with three misdemeanor charges of official oppression. He was sentenced yesterday to serve nine months on probation by Westmoreland County Judge Rita Hathaway. Continue reading

Prison guard accused of faking medical excuses

A prison guard at SCI-Greensburg was charged Tuesday with forging various doctor’s excuses over a three-year period to call off work.

Dennis F. Blevins, 50, of 145 Front St., Blairsville, was arraigned before Hempfield District Judge Mark Mansour on one charge of theft of services and 15 counts each of forgery and tampering with public records. Continue reading

Ex-prison guard to stand trial

A former Fayette County corrections officer who was fired for allegedly smuggling tobacco and prescription narcotics into the county jail was held for trial on criminal charges Tuesday after a preliminary hearing.

Tim Hamborsky, 48, of Connellsville, is charged by the Fayette County Drug Task Force with possessing a controlled substance, possessing with intent to deliver and bringing contraband into a prison. Continue reading

Prison guard facing charges fired

A Fayette County prison guard accused of smuggling contraband into the jail in exchange for $75 was fired Wednesday from the job he had worked for 21 years.

The prison board voted unanimously to terminate Tim Hamborsky, 48, of 732 N. Belleview Road, Connellsville, from his position as a corrections officer at the county jail.

Hamborsky lost his job one week after he allegedly was caught on tape smuggling narcotics and tobacco into the Fayette County Prison. He was charged last week by the Fayette County Drug Task Force with possession of a controlled substance, possession with intent to deliver and bringing contraband into a prison.

The charges were the result of a sting operation carried out just feet from the prison entrance on Court Street — and within view of District Attorney Nancy Vernon’s office in the adjacent courthouse.

Vernon yesterday said she and officers from the task force videotaped Hamborsky from her office window as the guard retrieved the narcotics from a hiding place under newspaper vending machines. The machines are located directly under Vernon’s window in the courthouse.

“I said to myself, ‘I can’t believe he’s doing this,'” Vernon said, shortly after she and other members of the prison board approved Hamborsky’s dismissal.

Warden Larry Medlock recommended the termination on the grounds Hamborsky committed an act unbecoming a corrections officer by bringing contraband into the prison and had the intent to deliver an item to an inmate without the warden’s approval.

The termination took effect immediately.

According to a criminal complaint filed with the charges, a police informant asked Hamborsky to take four Vicodin tablets and tobacco into the prison. In exchange, Hamborsky was to receive $75.

Vernon said Hamborsky went to the newspaper boxes at 11:30 p.m. Nov. 5, then entered the prison to begin his shift. He was greeted by Medlock and Detective Thomas O’Barto of the drug task force. O’Barto found the tablets, tobacco and money in Hamborsky’s sleeve, according to the criminal complaint.

In addition to his job, Hamborsky risks losing his retirement benefits if convicted. According to a county employee handbook, the Public Employee Pension Forfeiture Act provides for loss of benefits for anyone who is convicted of a crime related to their employment.

Vernon said Hamborsky could face jail time if convicted of the felony offenses. She said any plea bargain she offers will call for a prison sentence.

Hamborsky faces a preliminary hearing 9:45 a.m. Nov. 25 at the Uniontown office of former District Judge Mark Blair. He is free on $25,000 unsecured bond.


prison guard pleads to drug delivery

CARLISLE, Pa. – A former guard accused of smuggling marijuana into a Pennsylvania prison in his boots may face time behind bars himself.

Twenty-five-year-old Matthew Millett of Enola pleaded guilty Tuesday to drug delivery and contraband charges.

Prosecutor John Dailey says Millett made four trips into the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill during a three-month period in 2007 carrying pot for inmates in his footwear. Sentencing guidelines for the charges call for a six-month county prison term.

Millett says he had a lapse of judgment and asked Cumberland County Judge Kevin Hess for understanding. Millett says he doesn’t want to ruin the rest of his life. He faces sentencing in February.


Pa. prison guard charged with smuggling marijuana

LABELLE, Pa. – State police say a guard at a state prison in western Pennsylvania has been charged with trying to smuggle marijuana into an inmate.

Thirty-one-year-old Todd Robinson, of Uniontown, faces possession of marijuana with intent to deliver and other charges, after police say he agreed to buy a pound of the drug from an undercover trooper. The trooper was posing as the friend of an inmate at the State Correctional Institution-Fayette. Police say Robinson bought the drugs for $2,500 and agreed to would smuggle two ounces into the prisoner.

Robinson faces a preliminary hearing Nov. 5. It’s not clear if he has an attorney.

Police say they began investigating Robinson in January after an inmate told them the guard was selling drugs.


Prison guard charged in marijuana sting

A corrections officer at the State Correctional Institution Fayette was arrested yesterday after he agreed to buy marijuana from an undercover state trooper and deliver it to an inmate, the Fayette County district attorney’s office said.

Todd Allen Robinson, 31, of Uniontown, faces several charges including drug possession with the intent to deliver, criminal attempt contraband and criminal use of a telecommunications facility.

The district attorney’s office said Mr. Robinson met with an undercover trooper posing as the acquaintance of an inmate in a parking lot of the Uniontown Mall. The trooper gave Mr. Robinson one pound of the drug after he allegedly agreed to take two ounces of it to a prison inmate. Mr. Robinson agreed to sell the rest of the marijuana and pay the trooper $2,500, the office said.

Mr. Robinson was arrested after the encounter and will be in court for a preliminary hearing next Wednesday.


Prison-sex confession stands

A prison psychologist given a three-year sentence for having sex with an inmate patient will go to prison after the Arkansas Supreme Court upheld her conviction Thursday.

Anna Clark, now 57, was convicted of third-degree sexual assault for her dalliance with Dan Burns, an inmate under her care.

Clark argued on appeal that her confession to an Arkansas State Police investigator about her sex with Burns was based on false promises.

Clark said the investigator told her he would keep the matter out of the press, keep her out of jail and even hoped that she’d retain her psychology license.

But Justice Annabelle Clinton Imber, writing for the court, said Clark had waived her Miranda rights and knew that having sex with an inmate was a crime.

“In viewing the totality of the circumstances, we conclude that [Clark ] ’s confession was voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently given,” Imber wrote.

Clark also contended that because the investigator didn’t tape the first 75 minutes of the interview, he violated the due-process clause in Article 2, Section 8 of the Arkansas Constitution.

No Arkansas law requires the police to record an interrogation in its entirety, Imber wrote.

But, Imber wrote, “we believe that the criminal-justice system will be better served if our supervisory authority is brought to bear on this issue” and announced the court will refer the “practicability” of adopting a formal rule on electronic recordings to its Committee on Criminal Practice for study.

But even if the court had a rule on taping confessions “any resulting error would be harmless in light of otherwise overwhelming evidence of [Clark ] ’s guilt,” Imber wrote.

A correctional officer walked in on Clark and Burns having sex, and Burns admitted to the relationship, the judge wrote.

Clark has been free on an appeals bond since her August 2007 sentencing, according to Department of Correction records, said prison spokesman George Brewer.

Her time out on bond won’t count toward her sentence, he said.

At the Supreme Court, the case is CR 07-1276, Anna Clark v. State of Arkansas.


Corrections officer gets probation in jail scandal

STROUDSBURG — Former Monroe County Correctional Facility guard Dana Simpson, 35, of Tobyhanna, was sentenced Thursday to a year’s probation after pleading guilty to a contraband charge (lending his cell phone to an inmate).

The incident occurred in January 2005, while Simpson was employed at the jail. He, five other corrections officers and a cook were charged after an investigation into allegations of employees having sexual contact with or providing contraband to inmates.

The following also have been sentenced:


  • Former guard Mark Gutshall, 40, of Blakeslee, to three to 23 months in Monroe County Correctional Facility after pleading guilty to institutional sexual assault.
  • Former guard Roodney Ulysse, 35, of Tobyhanna, to a year’s probation after pleading no contest to contraband charges.
  • Former guard Yvonne Lockard, 32, of Tobyhanna, to a year’s probation after pleading guilty to contraband charges.
  • Former guard Karen Stone, 38, of Mount Pocono, to a year’s probation after pleading guilty to contraband charges.
  • Former guard Frank Bell, 51, of Bangor, to a year’s probation after pleading guilty to contraband charges.
  • Former cook Misty Mate, 31, of Albrightsville, to a year’s probation after pleading guilty to contraband charges.


Prison kitchen worker faces marijuana, heroin charges

HUNTINGDON, Pa. — A kitchen employee at the state prison in Huntingdon is jailed on charges that he possessed heroin and marijuana that he allegedly planned to smuggle to an inmate. Twenty-one-year-old Mark Alan Frehn, of Three Springs, was arrested Wednesday in the parking lot of a shopping center in Smithfield Township. Huntingdon County District Attorney George Zanic says Frehn was arrested as part of an undercover investigation into drug trafficking at the State Correctional Institution-Huntingdon. Frehn had just received three ounces of heroin and five pounds of marijuana from and undercover officer when he was arrested. It’s not clear if he has an attorney. Zanic says investigators expect to make more arrests soon.


After jail scandals, county makes reform report public

Monroe County Correctional Facility must clearly communicate its “zero tolerance” for sexual misconduct to employees and inmates, and break the “code of silence” that makes both groups reluctant to report violations.

Those are among conclusions of a far reaching, federally funded study of prison operations commissioned in the wake of a 2006 sex scandal at the Snydersville prison.

The 41-page report was completed last September but wasn’t released by the Monroe County Prison Board until Thursday.

The report by The Moss Group was paid for by the National Institute of Corrections. The report includes observations and data collection by three consultants during a two-day site visit last summer.

It calls for better staff training, particularly in implementing procedures of a federal law aimed at preventing prison rape.

“Until quite recently, there were no policies, procedures or training related to staff sexual misconduct and staff was unaware of the 2003 legislation, the Prison Rape Elimination Act,” the report states. “There was no clear ‘zero tolerance’ message communicated by the board, the warden or the leadership team. Staff described relationships between staff that cross professional boundaries and result in inappropriate interactions. There has apparently been a great deal of off-duty socializing, which at times has included former inmates.”

The report also recommends additional supervisory positions, the promotion of more women and minorities, an improved grievance filing process for inmates, and more formalized and consistent expectations of correction officer conduct with inmates.


Lawyers sue again over prison overcrowding in Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA – A year after a federal judge issued a scathing order over conditions at Philadelphia‘s crowded jails, the problem has only worsened, civil rights lawyers charge in a lawsuit filed Monday.

Three people are routinely held in two-bunk cells, leaving the third to sleep in a blue, plastic shell on the floor, inches from the toilet, they said. The overcrowding jeopardizes medical care and other basic needs of the record 9,300 people now in city custody, the lawsuit alleges.

“Our clients are being detained in unconstitutional conditions, and we think the court’s intervention is necessary to get the problems resolved,” lawyer Jonathan Feinberg said Monday.

Feinberg works with University of Pennsylvania law professor David Rudovsky, who filed a similar lawsuit last year as well as a 1971 complaint that led to court oversight of Philadelphia jails through 2001.

The prison census has grown from about 8,800 when U.S. District Judge R. Barclay Surrick issued his order in January 2007.

New Mayor Michael Nutter wants to explore alternatives to prison for some nonviolent offenders and hopes to reduce recidivism through a program that offers tax breaks to firms that hire ex-offenders.

Nutter, who took office in January, also has asked his prison commissioner to outline other ways to reduce the prison population, a spokesman said.

Feinberg acknowledged Nutter’s interest in the problem and said he hopes the two sides can work together.

In a 76-page opinion last year, Surrick ordered the city to immediately provide prisoners with clean cells, toilets, showers, beds and medical attention. He allowed the use of three-person cells only as a temporary solution.

But the judge’s temporary injunction expired in the middle of last year. Today, about 2,000 to 3,000 inmates are housed three-to-a-cell, Feinberg said.

Monday’s lawsuit was filed on behalf of 11 inmates housed at four city jails, but seeks class certification on behalf of all city inmates.

The lawsuit seeks, as one remedy, a three-judge panel to review the potential release of some nonviolent offenders.

The city has 60 days to formally respond to the lawsuit.


Inmate in abuse scandal files suit

A former Monroe County Correctional Facility inmate — previously identified as a victim of institutional sexual assault — has sued three former corrections officers, two former prison administrators, the county commissioners, and the jail and county as institutions.

The woman, whose name is being withheld by the Pocono Record, charges violations of her 8th Amendment Constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment, and 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law. She seeks at least $150,000 each in compensatory and punitive damages, plus court costs.

Named in the suit are former corrections officers Dana Simpson, Richard Chilmaza and Frank Bell, who were criminally charged last year with institutional sexual assault for incidents said to involve the plaintiff in the suit. It is a crime for a correctional officer to have any sexual contact, consensual or otherwise, with an inmate.

Simpson, 35, pleaded no contest last year to having sexual contact with an inmate, but filed a motion this year seeking to withdraw that plea. Bell, 50, pleaded guilty early this year to a reduced charge of providing illegal contraband to an inmate. Chilmaza, 41, is awaiting trial in Monroe County Court on sexual misconduct charges.

Also named in the suit are former warden David Keenhold, former deputy warden Daniel Slashinski, Commissioners Donna Asure and Suzanne McCool and former Commissioner Robert Nothstein. The plaintiff maintains these individuals failed to take steps to protect her from the advances of the three officers, and should have known, according to the filing, that previous sexual harassment and/or assault allegations had been lodged against them.

“All defendants acted in such a way as to endanger the plaintiff’s health and well-being,” states the brief filed by the woman’s attorney, Jane S. Sebelin of Palmerton. “Defendants’ actions amount to deliberate indifference to plaintiff. … The volume of sexual misconduct problems at this institution is problematic and an indicator of a systemic issue of general lack of safety at the prison.”

U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas M. Blewitt has filed a report recommending that most of the civil charges against the supervisors, administrators and institutions be thrown out by presiding Judge Richard P. Conaboy. Blewitt recommends that many of the charges against the former guards continue through the legal system.

Magistrate judges screen such civil allegations under the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995.

Blewitt said the plaintiff’s filing “does not allege that any of these supervisory defendants were actively involved in the sexual assault and sexual harassment of her” by the three corrections officers.

The suit alleges all the defendants engaged in a conspiracy that enabled sexual assaults to take place and for those acts to be concealed. It also alleges assault and battery, false imprisonment, harassment, failure to protect the plaintiff from harm, and infliction of emotional distress by the guards.

Blewitt recommends that conspiracy claims be dropped against jail administrators and county officials.

“We find that plaintiff’s vague conspiracy claim should be dismissed against all defendants except for defendant COs Simpson, Chilmaza and Bell,” Blewitt wrote.

The plaintiff maintains the correctional facility failed to adequately screen corrections officers during the hiring process and failed to provide adequate on-the-job training.

The facility began running national criminal background checks last year on correctional officer applicants. Previously the prison only ran criminal background checks for Pennsylvania.

The defendants have yet to formally respond to the suit, filed last month. Stroudsburg attorney Gerard J. Geiger has been retained to defend the county and correctional facility. He didn’t return a call Thursday afternoon seeking comment.

Seven corrections officers and a kitchen worker were criminally charged last year with institutional sexual assault and/or providing contraband — use of cell phones — to inmates.

There are about 330 inmates at the Snydersville facility. There are 94 corrections officers when the prison is at full staff.


Jail correctional officers confront county officials

STROUDSBURG — About a dozen Monroe County Correctional officers and county Commissioner Donna Asure traded accusations during the prison board’s monthly meeting Tuesday.

Asure, who chairs the prison board, faulted officers for airing jail problems in public rather than bringing them to officials for resolution. She said some officers falsely characterized the circumstances under which she received a cell phone call during a recent visit to the Snydersville facility — where cell phones are banned.

Asure said she received permission from Warden Marlene Chamblee to bring a cell phone into the jail because she was expecting two important legal calls from attorneys concerning the prison. Asure said prison employees heavily criticized her for taking a call despite her own past efforts to support prison staff.

“I’m not the type of politician who flaunts my position and says, ‘Look at me,'” she said. “I’m one of the few guys who support you in public and you stab me in the back.”

Asure told about a dozen corrections officers and spouses that allegations detailed in a Pocono Record story Tuesday about the forced retirement of deputy warden Daniel Slashinski are counter-productive.

“It only works from telling us,” she said. “It doesn’t work from telling the press and telling the public.”

Corrections officer Joe Dougher said his assertions, in a letter to prison officials, that jail employees have been treated unfairly since a half-dozen officers were implicated in a 2006 sex scandal, are based on the views of those who work there.

“There’s a perception we’re being punished for something that was done two years ago,” Dougher said. “It all seems it’s geared up to punish us. It’s not just me. All the officers feel the same way.”

Officers said morale among employees has reached a new low. They cited failure to reach agreement on a new four-year contract — a matter headed to binding arbitration — and the decision by prison officials not to consult them about placement of new security cameras.

“Everything gets locked up now” by maintenance workers without any access from security officers, said Scott Jackson.

“The spirit is broken,” said Tom Pagliano. “It’s like when you beat a dog, the dog is broken.”

“I have never seen morale so low as it is now,” said Louise Kramer. “If you come out and meet with us … I think everybody would appreciate it.”

Asure said she is available.

“You can grab me and pull me aside,” she said. “I’m not scared. … None of us is adverse to getting the conversation going.”

One officer suggested placement of a suggestion box at the jail so employees could make anonymous suggestions for improvements. Asure said she isn’t against the idea but would want submitters to put their name to the suggestions.

“If you’re not willing to sign your name on it, how real is it?” she asked.

Asure said the additional security cameras are primarily for the protection of corrections officers.

“We need you to change with it because you’re under more dangers,” Asure said. “You have more responsibilities.”

Commissioner Theresa Merli, also on the prison board, said the transition to new personnel, regulations and procedures will eventually produce a better operation.

“It’s uncomfortable for all of us,” Merli said. “I believe there is a way to get through that transitional period.”

Chamblee, who became warden in January, and the prison board met for one hour in private to discuss personnel matters. This included the search for a new deputy warden, and allegations by an inmate that a few officials illegally prevented his outgoing mail from being sent to the intended destinations.


Older stories can be found under Sites of interest

Under the old cosgoingwrong link On the right side of the home page.