Judge to COs: Defense won't hold up in court

Accused of punching, wrestling and choking two inmates

By Rick Lee
York Daily Record

YORK, Pa. — York County Judge Richard K. Renn advised three attorneys representing three suspended corrections officer that he does not think their planned defense will hold up at trial.

His remarks immediately were met with a uniform gulp and a collective silence from the attorneys.

David Michael Whitcomb, 28, of Hellam Township, Mark Andrew Haynes, 27, of Jacobus, and Daniel H. Graff, 38, of York, are charged with official oppression for allegedly punching, wrestling and choking two inmates between January and July 2013.

They also are accused of encouraging the inmates to participate in what defense attorney Chris Ferro called "nonsensical and juvenile acts," such as, according to Pennsylvania State Police who investigated the allegations, drinking a gallon of milk in an hour, eating a spoonful of cinnamon, snorting spicy vegetable Ramen Noodle powder and crushed candy, drinking a bottle of water with pepper foam sprayed in it and eating fruit with the peels intact.

In exchange, the inmates were to receive extra food and coffee, according to investigators.

Monday in Common Pleas Court at a pretrial conference for the guards, the attorneys discussed the possibility of "consent" as a defense with the judge.

Attorney Korey Leslie, who represents Whitcomb, said the single inmate who testified at the preliminary hearing — David Michael Wright — said the guards did not threaten or force the inmates to do anything.

"The witness testified these were consensual acts," said Leslie who further explained that nothing was being taken away from the inmates if they declined to participate in the guards' alleged suggestions.

Leslie said he was trying to determine what the "underlying illegal act" was that supported the oppression charge.

On the flip side, the attorneys argued that the prison froze inmate Wright's commissary privileges until he agreed to cooperate with the investigation.

Senior prosecutor Kelley Nelson said, "The (official) oppression here is the mistreatment of the individuals who rely" on the guards for safety, food and housing.

Renn appeared to agree. He said he did not believe that "consent would be an issue (defense), given that type of deep relationship." He said even a teacher-student relationship did not carry the "same ball-controlling status" as prison guards and inmates.

The guards' trial is tentatively scheduled for the week of Dec. 8.

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