Five months ago, reports surfaced that eight corrections officers at the State Correctional Institution at Pittsburgh had been suspended without pay, pending a grand-jury investigation. So far, little has been said publicly about the investigation's scope, or the nature of the allegations.
But outside that investigation, accusations of wrongdoing have begun to surface.
In a previously unreported lawsuit, a former SCI-Pittsburgh inmate has accused one of the suspended officers, Harry Nicoletti, of sexual abuse. In a handwritten-and-typewritten civil complaint filed July 25, convict Rodger E. Williams alleges that from "April 12, 2010 to April 21, 2010 I was repeatedly harassed, raped, and sexually assaulted by correction[s] officer Nicoletti."
Williams, who describes himself as a "34-year-old transgender/male with breasts" and who has a lengthy rap sheet of mostly non-violent offenses, is serving a three-year sentence for arson at SCI-Greene. Most of Williams' complaint, in fact, concerns a series of grievances about his treatment there -- complaints that range from the water-temperature in the prison shower to being passed over for work details.
The allegations against Nicoletti appear in a two-sentence paragraph near the end of the complaint, along with the assertion that the abuse "occurred with the full knowledge of the superintendent and other high ranking staff at … SCI-Pittsburgh." Williams' lawsuit names as defendant former SCI-Pittsburgh superintendent Melvin Lockett and other prison administrators.
Nicoletti has previously acknowledged being one of the eight guards suspended during the investigation. When reached by City Paper, Nicoletti stridently denied the accusations in the Williams suit; he confirmed that he has been suspended without pay, but would not comment for publication.
"Please consider the source of [Williams'] allegations," urges Casey White, a Pittsburgh attorney representing a suspended corrections officer not named in Williams' complaint. "None of these claims have been substantiated by anyone with any credibility." Williams, White says, "is wast[ing] the judicial system's time and resources by making frivolous claims."
Officials at the Department of Corrections declined comment on the lawsuit. In May, however, the DOC replaced Lockett and three other high-ranking officials at the prison. All three were named in Williams' lawsuit; none are currently employed by the DOC. At the time, DOC press secretary Susan McNaughton would neither confirm nor deny to CP that the staffing changes had anything to do with the suspensions or grand-jury investigation.
In a separate letter to CP, Williams claims that he spoke to a state investigator about the alleged abuse in May, and that in June, "I testified at a secretly convened grand jury in Dormont."
Via email, Allegheny County Deputy District Attorney Diane Berman, who has conducted grand-jury investigations for the DA's office in the past, declined to comment.
CP has also learned that another inmate plans to file a lawsuit alleging sexual abuse at SCI-Pittsburgh. According to that inmate's family and attorney, the suit could be filed as early as this week.
Since a spate of news stories this spring, there has been little public discussion of the case, except for an Aug. 4 incident, when a SCI-Pittsburgh officer, Tory D. Kelly, was arrested in Hopewell Township. Kelly, who is also reportedly among the eight guards suspended, was charged with misdemeanor counts of simple assault, two counts of stalking, terroristic threats and retaliation against a witness or victim. According to various media reports, SCI-Pittsburgh CO Curtis Hoffman accused Kelly of showing up at his home and threatening that he had a ".50-caliber bullet with … Hoffman's name on it."
A $25,000 bond was set. The preliminary hearing was scheduled for Aug. 9, but has twice been rescheduled. It is currently slated for Oct. 4.