Three on trial for assaulting inmates

Charges also pending against former guard

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Three men are on trial this week for their alleged roles in the March assaults of two fellow Blair County Prison inmates, including one who was threatened with a homemade knife and who testified Monday and a second who was sexually assaulted and whose ear was maimed.

“His ear was nearly off … held on by a piece of skin,” one of the victim inmates testified Monday in Blair County Court about the condition of his fellow inmate upon returning to their cell. “He looked awful. … He was in pain, he could hardly walk and he smelled like s- – -.”

Hollidaysburg Borough police charged six inmates in the assaults including the three on trial this week: Curtis “Tank” Ramsey, Charles Frank and Zachary Moore. Charges are still pending against two more, Dalaun Carroll and Maurice Wakefield, while the sixth, Allen Grager, entered guilty pleas in November and was sentenced to eight to 20 years.

Charges are also pending against Dalton Zeiders, a former prison guard who was on duty during the assaults and is accused of knowing what was going on.

Monday’s testifying inmate told the jury that his cellmate, who allegedly was sexually assaulted, had been transferred that day to “E” block, arriving with a bag of tobacco among his belongings and more tobacco in his rectum.

“He told me he had it in his rear … he told others, too,” the testifying inmate said.

Assistant District Attorney Amanda Jacobson had the testifying inmate explain that because there’s no money in prison, it’s commonplace for inmates to trade things like snacks and tobacco even though it’s contraband.

The testifying inmate also said that Ramsey and another inmate believed they “had the monopoly on tobacco” in that area of the prison and advised the newly transferred inmate they didn’t want him stepping on their toes.

Subsequently, the testifying inmate said that Ramsey, Grager and Moore came to his cell and demanded to know where the tobacco was. He said they knocked him to the floor, held him down and Moore put a homemade knife to his chin.

“I told them I didn’t have anything,” the testifying inmate said.

Defense attorney Richard Cochran, who represents Ramsey, asked the testifying inmate why he didn’t “scream out” while being attacked, pointing out that his cell was close to a prison staffing area.

The testifying inmate said that’s not done in prison.

“You don’t scream; you don’t make noise,” he said. “If you make noise, a lot of things can happen.”

Prison video shows the trio leaving his cell, then having a discussion in an area shared by inmates before heading to another cell where the sexual assault reportedly occurred. Charges indicate that the inmates tried unsuccessfully to remove the tobacco from the man’s rectum, resulting in a charge of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse by forcible compulsion.

The testifying inmate said he tried to help “clean up” his fellow inmate who was bleeding from the ear and had blood on his boxer shorts. He said his cellmate then went to the toilet and forced the plastic-wrapped tobacco out. The tobacco was tossed out of the cell.

Retired Blair County Prison Lt. Jeffrey Rickabaugh said he learned of the assaults the next day from medical staff. He said he began an internal investigation and contacted Hollidaysburg police.

Rickabaugh said his investigation revealed that the accused inmates should have been inside their cells when the assaults occurred, based on a 2008 policy setting specific times when inmates can be in shared areas. Rickabaugh also pointed to other policy infractions he saw as prison video was played in court, showing inmates walking through shared areas and heading toward cells, where there are no cameras.

It sounds like there were a lot of policy violations going on at the prison, said defense attorney Mark Zearfaus, who is representing Moore.

“I would agree with you 100 percent,” Rickabaugh said. “And I worked hard to address them.”

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.