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Former Allegheny County Jail major pleads guilty to covering up inmate assault

| Monday, Oct. 15, 2012, 12:55 p.m.

A former top Allegheny County Jail administrator pleaded guilty on Monday in federal court to falsifying a report to cover up the fact that he repeatedly punched an inmate in the face when he tried to escape.

James Donis, 50, of Shaler beat Gary W. Barbour, 30, while he was kneeling on the floor and not struggling, prosecutors say.

The former major initially filed a report that said Barbour's face was bleeding when he was recaptured but didn't mention striking him, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Shaun Sweeney. When he learned the FBI was investigating, Donis filed a new report claiming Barbour was combative and refused to obey orders, Sweeney said.

U.S. District Judge Gustave Diamond asked Donis whether Sweeney's summary was accurate.

β€œIt is, your honor,” Donis said.

Wearing a black suit, Donis said little during the hearing except in response to the judge's questions. He and his attorney, Charles Porter, declined comment afterward.

Under the plea agreement, Donis and the government agree that sentencing guidelines recommend one year to a year and six months in prison.

Diamond said he'll decide whether to accept that agreement after probation officials complete a background investigation of Donis.

The judge told Donis that he likely will order him to pay restitution to Barbour. Donis remains free on a $50,000 unsecured bond.

Sweeney declined comment after the hearing.

A grand jury indicted Donis for depriving Barbour of his civil rights and lying to law enforcement officers in addition to falsifying the report. As part of the plea agreement, the government will drop the other charges.

Ron Barber, one of the attorneys representing Barbour in his civil lawsuit against Donis and eight other guards, said even though Donis didn't plead guilty to violating Barbour's civil rights, he acknowledged committing actions on which those charges are based.

β€œI think that will be just as useful for my case,” Barber said.

Diamond scheduled Donis' sentencing for Feb. 20.

Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

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