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Inmate claims prison guards coerced him and others into sexual acts

A group of guards at the state prison in Woods Run systematically intimidated, abused and raped homosexual and transgender inmates, one of the inmates claims in a federal lawsuit filed today.

The unidentified inmate says suspended guard Harry Nicoletti of Coraopolis was the ringleader of the group. Nicoletti has been suspended since January and seven other guards have been suspended since March while the Department of Corrections conducts an internal investigation.

Corrections officials have refused to discuss the investigation or even confirm that it dealt with guards sexually assaulting inmates. Corrections spokeswoman Susan Bensinger declined comment on the lawsuit.

There was no answer at the home phone for Nicoletti.

The inmate is suing Nicoletti, former superintendent Melvin Lockett, six other prison officials, the prison and the Department of Corrections. The lawsuit says the inmate was in the prison from March 2009 through July 2010 on a parole violation. During that period he saw guards physically and sexually abuse other inmates and was abused himself, the lawsuit says.

If any inmate refused orders to submit, the guards would cite them for misconduct and, in some cases, physically attack them, the lawsuit says. The inmate filed a grievance but the guards threatened worse assaults so he dropped the complaint, the lawsuit says.

'At all times relevant during these sexual attacks by defendant Nicoletti, inmate John Doe was in fear for his life and was intimidated and coerced by defendant Nicoletti and the other defendants to not say anything about what he saw at Pittsburgh SCI and to what happened to him,' the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit refers to another inmate`s lawsuit in federal court where a transgender inmate claims that Nicoletti sexually assaulted him in April 2010 over a nine-day period.

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