3 Pa. COs charged with official oppression of inmates

Allegedly held what one of them referred to as the "Retard Olympics" in the prison's Old South Block

By Liz Evans Scolforo
The York Dispatch

YORK COUNTY, Pa. — Three York County Prison corrections officers are being criminally charged -- and remain on unpaid administrative leave -- for allegedly holding what one of them referred to as the "Retard Olympics" in the prison's Old South Block, according to state police.

State police filed charges of official oppression Friday against David Michael Whitcomb, 28, of Hellam Township, Mark Andrew Haynes, 26, of Jacobus and Daniel H. Graff, 37, of York.

Charging documents were not immediately available, but police said the alleged misconduct included physically assaulting inmates, bribing them to wrestle each other, and bribing them to perform "stupid" challenges such as snorting ramen noodle flavoring powder and drinking a bottle of water that had pepper-spray foam in it.

Police allege the incidents happened between Jan. 30 and July 1.

On video: Troopers were called to investigate after prison officials reviewed surveillance footage as part of an internal investigation into an incident of criminal mischief, according to police.

On that video, they saw Haynes grab prison inmate David M. Wright around the neck from behind, police allege.

A prison captain asked Wright, 27, of Red Lion, about what happened. Wright said he is an inmate "hall worker," meaning he had access to the cell block.

According to Wright, Whitcomb, Haynes and Graff arranged a wrestling match between Wright and fellow inmate James W. Hicks Jr., 27, of Dover.

Food, coffee: The rules were they couldn't punch each other in the face, and whoever got his opponent to "tap out" first would get extra coffee and lounge food, police allege. Lounge food is food from the prison's staff cafeteria.

Wright said he won the match, which also meant Hicks was no longer permitted to be a hall worker, police said.

Wright also told police he wrestled Graff in a storage closet, and that Graff "cut my air supply off so I dropped him on the ground and he said enough enough," according to a state police news release.

On another occasion, Whitcomb offered Wright lounge food in exchange for letting Whitcomb punch him in the leg and give him a "dead leg," and Wright agreed, police allege.

Haynes also offered Wright lounge food if Wright could "take a punch in the arm without falling," police said, adding Wright allowed the guard to punch him, but didn't receive any lounge food.

Pepper-sprayed? Wright maintains he allowed Graff to spray him in the face with pepper foam in exchange for coffee, but that Graff never gave him the coffee, according to police.

Hicks, the inmate Wright allegedly wrestled, told investigators he was part of what the guards called the "Retard Olympics," which went on in Old South Block, police allege.

Hicks said he would do "stupid stuff for food and coffee," according to police.

The events were organized by Whitcomb, Haynes and Graff, police said, and inmate challenges included:

* Drinking a gallon of milk in an hour

* Eating a spoonful of cinnamon

* Snorting a line of ramen noodle flavoring powder, in "spicy vegetable" flavor

* Snorting crushed-up candy

* Drinking a bottle of water with pepper foam in it.

Hicks said after completing the challenges the guards would allow him to have lounge food and coffee, police allege.

Hicks reported that the challenges turned physical, and that he had to wrestle both Graff and Whitcomb, police allege.

Graff and Whitcomb also would punch Hicks in the legs and arms until they went numb, according to police.

Choking alleged: Hicks said on one occasion, he allowed Whitcomb to "choke him out" in exchange for food, police allege.

It is unclear if the three guards have retained attorneys.

On Friday morning, York County spokesman Carl Lindquist issued a news release on behalf of the county, saying prison officials learned of the "possible unprofessionalism" while investigating incidents of graffiti and vandalism, and immediately began an internal investigation.

"Based on evidence obtained during the internal investigation, the three officers were placed on unpaid administrative leave and the matter was turned over to (police) ... for further investigation and possible criminal charges," the release states.

It also says prison officials and county officials were declining comment because it is both a criminal case and a personnel matter.

"Each day, hundreds of corrections officers work diligently to maintain the security of the prison and ensure the safety and well-being of inmates and fellow corrections officers," the news release states. "Misconduct within any county agency is not tolerated."

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