Former jail administrator given probation for beating up inmate
An otherwise exemplary life doesn't give a former top Allegheny County Jail administrator a “free pass” to beat a helpless inmate, but it will keep him out of prison, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
James Donis, 50, of Shaler pleaded guilty in October to falsifying a report to cover the fact that he repeatedly punched Gary W. Barbour, 31, after guards recaptured Barbour during an escape attempt.
Donis asked U.S. District Judge Gustave Diamond for leniency. Donis was a major who was fourth in command at the jail and oversaw special operations there.
“I made a bad mistake,” he said. “Please don't judge me just on this one incident in 23 years.”
Diamond agreed that the pre-sentence investigation by federal probation officers produced evidence that Donis' assault on Barbour was an aberration, but the ensuing cover-up was not. If Donis had admitted the assault immediately he probably would have been reprimanded and still would be working at the jail, the judge said.
“He panicked and began lying about it and that is what brought him here,” Diamond said.
Diamond sentenced Donis to eight months at Renewal Inc., a halfway house, and five years of probation. He also said that Donis would pay restitution. Diamond set a hearing on restitution for May 14.
Barbour has a civil lawsuit pending against Donis and the county seeking compensatory and punitive damages.
Gary Barbour Sr., the inmate's father, said he hoped the judge would sentence Donis to some prison time so that he could understand how helpless his son and other inmates feel.
“Not that I want him to get beat, but I want him to think about how it would feel to be that way,” he said. “That pretty much seems like a slap on the wrist to me.”
Gary Barbour Jr., in a letter, asked the judge to send Donis to prison.
Charles Porter, Donis' attorney, said Barbour repeatedly received probation for crimes. “I think it's ironic that a man who got breaks on seven occasions should suggest that a man should get incarcerated on his first offense,” Porter told the judge.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Shaun Sweeney agreed that the evidence pointed to Donis being “a good man his whole life.”
However, Donis' standing in the corrections community means that all “the correctional officers in the jails and prisons in the Western District of Pennsylvania” are waiting to see what happens, Sweeney said.
Diamond said that consideration was one reason he rejected home confinement for Donis, but he said he also doesn't believe it would be right to send Donis to a maximum-security federal prison.
“The defendant has already suffered quite a bit as the result of his behavior,” the judge said.
Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Police charge Steelers’ Bell, Blount with marijuana possession
- Starkey: Stupid Steelers
- It’s only exhibition, but these Steelers could solidify roster spots vs. Eagles
- Pitt’s Chryst names Voytik starting quarterback
- New Kensington slaying victims identified
- Rabid bat found in Oakmont
- Pitt recruit Rowan leaving Lincoln Park
- Kiss’ makeup has changed, but their impact remains strong
- State Superior Court upholds conviction, sentence of former Justice Melvin
- Alaska serial killer Robert Hansen dies at 75
- Robbery charges dismissed against Uniontown man