Inmate sues 4 COs for forced participation in 'retard olympics'

The suit, which also names the county as a defendant, charges that the guards and the county violated inmate James William Hicks Jr.'s constitutional right that bans cruel and unusual punishment

By Mike Argento
York Daily Record

YORK, Pa. — A former York County Prison inmate has filed a federal lawsuit against four prison guards alleging that they violated his rights when they reportedly coerced him into participating in fights and demeaning stunts that they called "retard olympics."

The suit, which also names the county as a defendant, charges that the guards and the county violated inmate James William Hicks Jr.'s constitutional right that bans cruel and unusual punishment.

It alleges that Hicks suffered injuries, "shame and humiliation," scarring and other permanent injuries and emotional trauma. The suit seeks an unspecified amount of damages in excess of $75,000, plus punitive damages and costs.

The suit, filed Sept. 29 in U.S. Middle District Court in Harrisburg, also charges that the alleged abusive competitions involving inmates "were a common event, known to (York County Prison) administrative personnel, and tolerated from 2008 through 2013, at the expense of inmate security and well-being."

The suit names three guards — Daniel Graff, David Whitcomb and Mark Haynes — who face criminal charges of official oppression and other offenses in the alleged abuse, which was revealed when officials were investigating an unrelated discrimination case. The guards, county spokesman Carl Lindquist said Monday, "are no longer employees of the county" as of January of this year. They had been suspended when the charges were filed.

The suit also names another guard, Adam Marcini, who is not charged in the criminal case. The suit alleges Marcini was among guards who initiated Hicks in the "retard olympics" when he was serving a county prison sentence in 2009.

Marcini said Monday that he was surprised by the lawsuit. He said he never participated in any of the stunts described in the suit and, in fact, had gone out of his way to help Hicks, who he said had problems in the prison.

"I spent a lot of time talking to this guy," Marcini said. "I would've assumed we were friends. It's sad. ...I did my best to keep him out of trouble. This is my thanks, I guess."

The suit describes alleged stunts that previously had been mentioned in the criminal complaint, and offers slightly more detail. Among them was drinking something called "mystery soup," a concoction of spoiled food and cleaning products.

The suit says Hicks overheard Marcini asking another guard "what they should do if Mr. Hicks were to die" after he became violently ill from drinking the concoction.

Hicks' "first round" with the competition ended when he left the prison in late 2009. It resumed when he returned in 2013, the suit alleges, with Graff, Whitcomb and Haynes taking the lead in making him and another inmate perform stunts that included licking one guard's boots, eating a whole grapefruit, including peel and seeds, and drinking large quantities of milk. Some of the stunts involved the guards hitting the inmates or putting them in choke holds, the suit alleges.

Hicks, at the time, was serving a county prison sentence for theft and parole violations, his lawyer said. He is currently incarcerated in the state prison at Waymart on child pornography charges filed in Juniata County, according to court records.

The lawsuit states that Hicks suffers from bi-polar and attention-deficit disorders and that because of that Hicks "should have been given greater protection from abuse while in custody" instead of being "the target of increased abuse, meted out by one or more of the individual defendants without regard to Mr. Hicks' well-being."

York County Prison warden Mary Sabol could not be reached for comment. Lindquist said the county was just served with the lawsuit Monday and that "it would be premature" to comment on it.

Attorney Steve Rice, representing Graff, said that although he hasn't seen the complaint, it "is proof of what we only had suspicions about, that (Hicks) is in it for the money. We continue to maintain that these allegations are fabrications and look forward to our day in court."

Attorney Chris Ferro, who represents Haynes, said the suit didn't surprise him. "From the beginning, I thought this was a search for money rather than a search for truth."

The criminal case is scheduled to go to trial in December, attorneys said.

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