Questions remain after Allegheny County jail investigation closes | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Questions remain after Allegheny County jail investigation closes

click to enlarge Allegheny County Jail - CP PHOTO: JARED WICKERHAM
CP Photo: Jared Wickerham
Allegheny County Jail
The Allegheny County Police Department Jail Internal Affairs Section and the Allegheny County Jail administrative team say they have both completed their “separate, independent” investigations into complaints regarding out-of-cell time and use of force at the jail. These complaints come from declarations provided to Pittsburgh City Paper by nonprofit and advocacy organization Abolitionist Law Center and were shared with county officials, with ALC’s permission, when asking for a response to the allegations.

“All logical investigative steps have occurred in relation to the potential criminal matters listed in the declarations or presented to the Jail Internal Affairs Section. No criminal concerns were located,” said Sgt. Brett Whittenberger of the Jail Internal Affairs Section in a press release.

Statements in the declarations included allegations that individuals experienced potential violations of out-of-cell time requirements, arbitrary use of solitary confinement to punish minor offenses, and intimidation from corrections officers armed with less-lethal weapons.

ALC Legal Director Bret Grote disputes the validity of the county investigation. “It’s a non-story about a fake investigation,” Grote told City Paper in a text message, adding, “The press release is devoid of substance. The jail clearing itself of criminal wrongdoing is amateurish straw-man arguments since the declarations did not allege criminal violations.”

After a Jan. 14 press conference at which the county announced its initial investigation did not corroborate the ALC declarations, Allegheny County Councilmember Bethany Hallam, who also sits on the Jail Oversight Board, questioned both the methods and the findings of the county investigation. Hallam called the investigation an “intimidation spree,” in reference to some declarants’ claims that their participation in the investigation was coerced.

“Contrary to the Warden’s assertion, the lack of resulting criminal charges does not mean that there was ‘no evidence of wrongdoing’ on the part of jail staff,” Hallam wrote in a Feb. 4 statement. “Many of the allegations went ignored or unaddressed — allegations about lockdowns and staffing crises, for example — and the fact that they cornered incarcerated individuals in interrogation-like settings without providing them access to counsel went entirely unmentioned,” she continued.

Hallam also raised concerns with the jail and county administrations’ priorities considering recent deaths in the jail. “And yet, again, in the same two week period where there was yet another death in the worse-than-Rikers Allegheny County Jail, the jail administration, the Allegheny County Police Department, and the County administration itself found it more useful to spend time harassing incarcerated whistleblowers and attorneys working with them than working on how to reduce the sky high death rate in that same facility,” Hallam wrote.

According to TribLive, Paul Spisak, a 77-year-old being held in the Allegheny County Jail, died on Jan. 30 in a local hospital, eight days after he was found unresponsive in his jail cell. No cause of death has yet been reported.

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