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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Breaking: Prison guard ID'ed in lawsuits arrested

Posted By on Tue, Sep 27, 2011 at 2:17 PM

This morning, SCI-Pittsburgh prison guard Harry F. Nicoletti was arrested on dozens of charges of sexual and physical assault involving prison inmates. Nicoletti was named in a lawsuit first reported by City Paper last week, and was the target of graphic abuse allegations in a separate legal action filed the day after our story came out. 

Today's criminal charges include numerous counts of indecent and simple assault, official oppression, terroristic threats, and criminal solicitation. They are detailed in a 34-page affidavit, which echoes many of the allegations our Matt Stroud reported last week. 

The affidavit was compiled by Gary Hiller, an investigator in the state Department of Corrections Office of Special Intelligence and Investigations. It is largely based on testimony made before a grand jury over a four-month period this year.

According to the affidavit, Nicoletti frequently -- though not always -- singled out prisoners convicted of sexually abusing children, abusing them in turn. Sometimes,  the abuse was psychological: One inmate, for example, claims Nicoletti forced him to suck his own thumb; others say Nicoletti had cell-block workers urinate on child-abusers' bed sheets. The complaint asserts that Nicoletti repeatedly referred to convicted pedophiles as "pee-pee touchers" and other slurs.

But allegedly, the abuse could also be physical -- with Nicoletti allegedly striking the convicts or shoving their heads inside toilets -- or sexual.

There are multiple allegations that Nicoletti exposed himself to inmates, and that he forced prisoners to masturbate him to climax. Nicoletti also allegedly threatened inmates with rape. In one case, Nicoletti is accused of bending an inmate over and "pok[ing] him in the rectum area with a broomhandle." Another inmate accuses Nicoletti of raping him. The alleged victim is not identified, but the circumstances of the incident are similar to those alleged in the lawsuit City Paper reported on last week, which was filed by former SCI-Pittsburgh inmate Rodger Williams

The allegations in the affidavit appear to be based entirely on eyewitness testimony from inmates. In a brief statement announcing the arrest, the District Attorney's office says that the charges are based on "the testimony of victims and [Department of Corrections] staff who appeared earlier this year" before a grand jury. Their perspectives on Nicoletti are not always easy to reconcile: While some accounts accuse Nicoletti of using racial epithets, for example, one inmate claims that Nicoletti demanded he apologize to black prisoners for using such language himself. 

Nicoletti has previously denied similar allegations made in the civil suits.

Nicoletti's arrest is only the beginning. Nicoletti was one of 8 guards purportedly on unpaid leave as part of the investigation. And at various points, the affidavit claims that other prison guards were on hand to see his actions, though there is little testimony that they were active participants. Inmates also claim that Nicoletti recruited prisoners to carry out their own reprisals; one inmate claims to have assaulted 15 convicted pedophiles at Nicoletti's direction. Another claims Nicoletti urged him to abuse his cellmate, a convicted sex offender; the prisoner claimed that Nicoletti promised to cover up the assualt, and to reward it with cigarettes. Nicoletti threatened to file false disciplinary charges against -- or even kill -- inmates who complained of his behavior.  

"The arrest of Nicoletti does not indicate the end of this investigation and more arrests will be forthcoming," the DA's statement asserts.

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