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Pa. inmate sues prison over attack that led to severed ear

Three other inmates attacked after hearing the inmate was an informant, one of whom used a homemade knife to sever his ear

By Terrie Morgan-Besecker
The Times-Tribune

LACKAWANNA COUNTY, Pa. — An inmate whose ear was sheered off during an assault at the Lackawanna County prison filed a federal lawsuit against the county and several guards, alleging the guards failed to protect him.

Lee Sokalsky claims prison staff was negligent in connection with the Nov. 26, 2016, assault. Not only did guards fail to prevent it from happening, they failed to send his severed ear to the hospital to be reattached, causing him to lose the ear and suffer hearing damage and permanent disfigurement.

Sokalsky had been jailed at the prison since Oct. 1, 2014, while awaiting trial on federal charges he robbed several banks in Lackawanna, Luzerne and Schuylkill counties. He pleaded guilty in March to four counts of bank robbery and was sentenced on Nov. 9 to 151 months in prison.

According to court records, Sokalsky robbed First National Community Bank in Hazleton on June 19, 2014, and Aug. 26, 2014. He also was charged with robbing NBT Bank in Dickson City on July 25, 2014; Mauch Chunk Trust Bank in Tamaqua on Aug. 26, 2014; National Penn Bank in Drums on Sept. 20, 2014, and M&T Bank in Hazle Twp. on Oct. 10, 2014.

The lawsuit, filed by Scranton attorneys Matthew Comerford and Curt Parkins, says Sokalsky was held at the prison as a pretrial detainee. Prison staff spread a false rumor that Sokalsky was an informant. That led three inmates to attack him, one of whom used a homemade knife to sever his ear.

Sokalsky was later returned to the prison and was again assaulted on Jan. 1 by another inmate, who broke the orbital bone in his face, the suit says.

The suit claims guards knew Sokalsky was at risk, but failed to ensure his safety. It seeks damages on several counts, including violation of Sokalsky’s right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.

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