By Brittany Hailer
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
Editor’s Note: This is a breaking story and will be updated as information becomes available.
In a federal lawsuit filed by Abolitionist Law Center (ALC) against the Allegheny County Jail (ACJ), three former incarcerated persons with physical and psychiatric disabilities say that Sergeant John Raible brutally assaulted them repeatedly.
The suit was filed Tuesday by ALC, the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project and the law firm K&L Gates. The plaintiffs are also suing Warden Orlando Harper, Chief Deputy David Zetwo, and Deputy Chief of Operations Jason Beasom.
According to the lawsuit, Raible pepper-sprayed April Walker, 27, repeatedly while she was pregnant, which resulted in her hospitalization. On a separate occasion, Walker says Raible slammed her head on a concrete wall and restrained her in a chair. Walker has asthma, bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
According to the complaint, LaVonna Dorsey, 35, who has asthma, depression, and anxiety, alleges that Raible pepper-sprayed her on the face, breasts, and buttocks while she was naked and locked in a “strip cage.” The complaint says that Raible then placed her in a restraint chair and over-tightened the straps, which resulted in a shoulder injury.
Alexus Diggs, 25, who is diagnosed with bipolar disorder and complex PTSD, said in the complaint Raibled locked her in an “enclosed steel strip cage and shot her with multiple pepper spray bullets because she had a “flexible pen.” According to the filed complaint, “Raible then assisted other officers with strapping Ms. Diggs in a restraint chair without first allowing her to be decontaminated, resulting in her skin burning….for several hours while she was strapped into the torturous device.”
ALC staff attorney Jaclyn Kurin wrote in an email, “The Plaintiffs are also suing Raible’s supervisors, Warden Orlando Harper, Chief Deputy David Zetwo, and Deputy Chief of Operations Jason Beasom for their failure to train and supervise staff at ACJ which led to the assaults. . .before the Plaintiffs were assaulted, Harper, Zetwo, and Beasom were aware of Raible’s violent history of assaulting incarcerated individuals for non-threatening conduct.”
According to the County Prison Extraordinary Occurrence Statistics compiled by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, in 2019 the Allegheny County Jail had more uses-of-force incidents than of any other jail in Pennsylvania. Uses-of-force incidents nearly doubled from 2015 to 2019, while the ACJ’s average daily population decreased. From 2018 to 2019, the uses-of-force incidents increased from 576 to 720.
In 2019, the ACJ used the restraint chair 339 times–a much higher rate per capita than any other county jail in the state. And, in 2018-19, 17 pregnant women in the state of PA were restrained, 6 of which were at the ACJ.