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Allegheny County Jail officials take 2 more blows

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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Twin legal punches have landed on Allegheny County Jail officials reeling from an ongoing federal investigation into allegations of inmate abuse.

Common Pleas Judge Timothy Patrick O'Reilly on Thursday overturned a jail phone-system contract dogged by allegations of bid-rigging by fired Internal Affairs Chief Thomas R. Leicht Jr. It's the second time courts have tossed bids linked to Leicht since 2006.

Sgt. Frank Slaughter, citing five years of mistreatment as a jail guard, on Tuesday filed a federal racial discrimination lawsuit. Slaughter, 47, is a witness in a similar case brought by another black guard, Florence Taylor, 58, of Beechview. She blames a recent demotion on racial bigotry.

"There's kind of a pattern here because they did the same thing to demote her," said Susan Mahood, the attorney representing both of them.

The Tribune-Review obtained internal jail reports that claim Slaughter was discovered in 2009 mixing suspected pedophiles and violent criminals with children in a popular "scared straight" rehabilitation program. Slaughter blamed shoddy jail procedures for the mistakes.

A 16-year veteran of the jail as a guard, Slaughter has said he's a former inmate, too, following expunged convictions in 1981 and 1990. Pittsburghers might recall a 2008 "Extreme Makeover" TV show that revamped his Penn Hills home.

County spokeswoman Judi McNeil declined to comment on the Slaughter matter, but said lawyers in the phone-system case are "reviewing that opinion."

O'Reilly's opinion orders the county to temporarily restore the original telephone vendor, Dallas-based Securus. He ruled that officials must rebid the deal that Leicht allegedly swung to Prison Communications Services, now a subsidiary of Virginia-based Global Tel*Link.

Noting that a public corruption scandal tied to Leicht cost the county a 2006 bidding case, O'Reilly castigated the jail for putting him on a contract-review panel for the same phone contract three years later. Global Tel*Link did not return messages.

O'Reilly credited the testimony of jail whistleblower William Mistick, 49, of Edgewood for prodding his decision. Mistick said that Leicht sought to steer the phone bid to a friend of ex-warden Ramon Rustin.

Rustin, 54, who didn't return calls seeking comment, fired Leicht on Sept. 3, following allegations that the Internal Affairs chief inflated his resume and lied under oath about being a police officer in the federal trial of Christina Korbe, the woman who killed FBI Special Agent Sam Hicks during a 2008 drug raid on her Indiana Township home.

Rustin announced his resignation from the jail on Dec. 17 to head the Metropolitan Detention Center in Albuquerque, N.M.

Although the county's Personnel Board upheld Leicht's termination on Feb. 28, he appealed the decision to Common Pleas Court and awaits a hearing. Neither Leicht, 48, nor his attorneys returned messages.

Jason Richey, the Downtown attorney representing Securus, called the departures of Leicht and Rustin a "clean break from the past" and urged the county to quit wasting "taxpayer dollars continuing to defend the actions of the old regime."

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