Former guard takes plea

HOLLIDAYSBURG — A former corrections officer at the Blair County Prison will be on probation for five years after rendering no contest pleas to four misdemeanors linked to the assault of an inmate with tobacco in his rectum.

Tyrone area resident Dalton R. Zeiders, 25, presented the pleas Friday to Blair County Judge Wade Kagarise, who imposed the recommended sentence negotiated by defense attorney Thomas M. Dickey and Blair County District Attorney Richard Consiglio.

Assistant District Attorney Katelyn Hoover advised Kagarise that Consiglio, who wasn’t in court on Friday, spoke with the victim and the investigating officers. They were in agreement with the plea, Hoover told the judge.

Hollidaysburg Borough police, who charged Zeiders and six inmates in the assault, accused Zeiders of turning a blind eye to what was going on during his March 16, 2017, work shift on E Block. The assault occurred inside a cell where the inmate was lured by fellow inmates, then assaulted. The victim had tobacco in his rectum as a way to conceal the contraband when moved to E Block from another section of the prison.

Dickey said Zeiders elected to enter no contest pleas as a way to get the case behind him without admitting “to something he didn’t do.” While no contest pleas do not require an admission of guilt, the court considers them to be a recognition of sufficient evidence which could lead a jury to reach a conviction.

“I’ve always believed in his innocence,” Dickey said of the former corrections officer who was suspended from his job after the allegations surfaced, then resigned from his county employment about six months later. “This is a young man who has never been in any trouble.”

While Zeiders had the option of going to trial — and picking a jury on Monday — Dickey said that option carried the risk of conviction and the possibility of a state prison sentence.

“With this resolution, he’ll be on probation for five years,” Dickey said. “And it put the case to rest. Not only for him, but the victim, too.”

The negotiated plea allowed Zeiders to avoid two felonies in the original charges. His no contest plea covers misdemeanour offenses of criminal conspiracy to commit unlawful restraint, criminal conspiracy to commit simple assault, recklessly endangering another person and official oppression.

Zeiders, who has attended court proceedings with supportive family and friends, rendered polite responses to the judge’s questions about the plea. The judge also advised Zeiders that he should participate in any evaluation and treatment recommended by the county adult parole and probation office.

Five of the six inmates involved in the assault are currently incarcerated for their roles in the assault, based on trial convictions or guilty pleas. They are: Charles M. Frank at 28 to 56 years; Zachary Moore, 14 to 28 years; Maurice D. Wakefield II, nine to 18 years; Allen Grager, eight to 20 years; and Curtis “Tank” Ramsey, six to 12 years. A sixth inmate, Dalaun Carroll, is expected to render guilty pleas in court on Aug. 23.

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