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Allegheny County pays $80,000 to settle jail beating lawsuit

| Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, 10:48 a.m.

Allegheny County has agreed to pay a former jail inmate $80,000 to settle his federal lawsuit over an incident in which he was beaten after an escape attempt.

Gary W. Barbour Jr., 32, is being held at SCI-Albion, but has been approved for parole and is awaiting release, said his attorney Ron Barber. He was serving a 19-month sentence for the escape attempt.

Barbour was dealing with a heroin addiction in the jail following a Pittsburgh police arrest for trying to buy dope when he tried to escape in 2010.

Barber said he couldn't discuss the settlement because it was confidential. County Solicitor Andrew Szefi said the county denies liability in the agreement.

“It was in the best interests of the county and the most efficient and cost-effective way to dispose of the claims,” he said.

The agreement says the $80,000 covers damages for Barbour and his legal fees, but doesn't provide any breakdown.

Former Maj. James Donis, 51, of Shaler pleaded guilty in October 2012 to falsifying a report to cover up the fact that he repeatedly punched Barbour when guards recaptured him.

U.S. District Judge Gustave Diamond in February sentenced Donis to five years of probation with the first eight months spent in a halfway house.

The county often is dismissed from jail complaints because the plaintiffs can't show any policy or practice that led to the problem. Barbour was able to point to at least four previous incidents involving jail guards attacking inmates, and U.S. Magistrate Lisa Pupo Lenihan in October 2012 denied the county's motion to be dropped from the case.

She ruled that Barbour presented enough evidence to require a jury verdict on whether the county was tolerating the use of excessive force at the jail. Since the case was settled, no jury has ruled on the question.

The county in October paid $4,000 to settle a Polish Hill man's lawsuit over an October 2010 assault by former guard Arii Metz, 35, of the North Side. David Kipp, 27, died unexpectedly this year. Metz pleaded guilty to violating his civil rights and was sentenced to five years of probation.

Eric Stoltenberg, a lawyer for the Allegheny County Prison Employees Independent Union, said that Donis wasn't a union member, that the union wasn't involved in the lawsuit and has no comment on the settlement.

Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

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