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Former prison guards sue over firings at SCI-Pittsburgh

| Monday, Nov. 26, 2012, 2:18 p.m.

Five former guards at the state prison in Woods Run who were fired in an investigation into allegations of inmate abuse sued six top Pennsylvania Department of Corrections officials on Monday.

In the lawsuit they filed in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh, Harry Nicoletti, Tory Kelly, Bruce Lowther, Brian Olinger and John Michaels claim corrections officials violated their due process rights and in Olinger's case subjected him to malicious prosecution.

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Susan McNaughton said the department does not comment on litigation.

The men seek damages for losses and illnesses they say they suffered because of their treatment during and immediately after the 2010-11 investigation that led to their dismissal from SCI-Pittsburgh. They named former state Corrections Secretary Shirley Moore Speal, Corrections Secretary John E. Wetzel, special investigators Gary Hiler and Michael Kondas, former SCI-Pittsburgh Superintendent Melvin Lockett and Superintendent Daniel Burns.

Three of the former officers — Nicoletti, Kelly and Lowther — await trial on state charges stemming from the investigation into allegations of sex crimes against inmates. A judge dismissed charges against Olinger during a preliminary hearing. Michaels was not charged.

Citing an arbitrator's findings that a state court overturned, the men claim the department failed to follow its own procedures when it dismissed them without explanation or permitting them to rebut the inmates' allegations.

Attorney Lawrence Fisher, who represents the former guards, referred to the investigation that led to his clients' firings as “an unconstitutional witch hunt” that was “based on the uncorroborated, unreliable word of convicted felons.”

Roy Pinto, president of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association, said his organization supports the former officers' claims.

Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or derdley@tribweb.com.

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