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5 guards settle lawsuits over sexual abuse, hazing claims at state prison in Pittsburgh

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PITTSBURGH — Five guards from the state prison in Pittsburgh who were disciplined over allegations they hazed or abused inmates — particularly those serving child-sex sentences — have settled lawsuits against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections for a total of $132,500.

The lawsuits had been filed by guards John Michaels, Brian Olinger, Kevin Johnson, Jerome Lynch and Bruce Lowther. Lowther, Olinger and Lynch were also prosecuted, but either had charges against them dismissed or were acquitted at trial.

Michaels and Olinger are getting $35,000 each; Johnson and Lynch are receiving $30,000 each; and Lowther settled for $2,500, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (http://bit.ly/1satiNa ) reported.

Corrections spokeswoman Susan McNaughton on Friday said all five still work for the department

The allegations against the guards grew out of an investigation into Harry Nicoletti, 62, who headed the prison's F Block, an intake pod where new inmates received orientation before being moved into the prison's general population.

Nicoletti is serving five years' probation for his conviction last year that he physically tormented and harassed inmates, mostly homosexuals and child molesters. Nicoletti was acquitted of all charges that he sexually molested some of those inmates, however.

Nicoletti's attorney argued that the allegations against him and the other guards were untrue or, at best, exaggerated.

The allegations spawned lawsuits by inmates who claimed to have been victimized, and guards who claimed they were wrongly caught up in an overzealous attempt by corrections officials to clean house.

Including the latest settlements, the state has now paid $232,500 to corrections officers who sued over being disciplined, prosecuted or both. Several were disciplined beyond the seven guards who were charged with crimes, and only two of those seven, Nicoletti and Tory Kelly, 42, of Aliquippa, were convicted. Kelly is serving 12 years' probation.

Several inmate victims have received a total of $286,000. The largest awards were $98,000 to a transgender inmate who claimed he was sodomized by Nicoletti and $65,000 by another who contends he was physically abused and harassed by Nicoletti.

Nicoletti has steadfastly denied the criminal and civil allegations against him.


Information from: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, http://www.post-gazette.com

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