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Inmate sues prison over confiscated letter

Roland claims rights violated when police issued warrant based on contents

An inmate, who has been in the Blair County Prison for more than a year awaiting trial on burglary and other offenses, is suing prison officials for allegedly confiscating a personal letter he wrote and turning it over to police.

Joshua Wade Roland, 30, of Altoona, in a federal lawsuit filed with U.S. District Court in Johnstown, contends prison officials denied him due process by confiscating and refusing to send his letter that was to go to a family member.

Roland filed his lawsuit this week, and it was referred to U.S. Magistrate Judge Patricia L. Dodge for further action.

Roland stated that he has been in the Blair County Prison since July 2, 2019. State court records show that during the past year he has been charged with a series of burglaries, thefts, forgeries and other offenses.

The most recent criminal information against Roland was filed June 23 and charged him with burglary, criminal trespass and theft that occurred on June 22, 2019.

Roland lists the Blair County Prison, Warden Abbie Tate and corrections officer Mark Gensamer, who he states handles incoming and outgoing inmate mail, as defendants.

Tate said she has not seen the lawsuit and has no comment.

Blair County solicitor Nathan Karn stated the county has no comment regarding any litigation matter.

Roland in his civil rights petition states that on July 11, 2019, he attempted to mail a personal letter to a family member, but that it was rejected because of a piece of tape used to seal the envelope.

Because it was sealed, it was considered contraband, according to the explanation given to him.

Roland charges that an officer opened his letter, read the contents and then notified Hollidaysburg Borough Police, who based on the contents of his letter, requested a search warrant for his cellphone.

On July 13, 2019, an unnamed Hollidaysburg police officer served him with a warrant for his cellphone and told him it was issued because of “something with a letter you wrote.”

Roland complains that he was never notified by the warden or anyone else associated with the prison that his letter was being rejected by the prison.

He contends he was not given a chance to protest the rejection of the letter.

A grievance was submitted to prison officials in August 2019, but it was never answered, Roland stated in his lawsuit.

He contends he has been denied “due process.”

Using a prison kiosk system, Roland said, he wrote a note to officials asking for a copy of his mail log — specifically outgoing mail.

He receive a reply stating: “You do not have any mail rejected by the prison.”

He stated he also spoke to a prison lieutenant and a deputy warden who confirmed there was no notice of rejection of any of his incoming or outgoing mail.

In the lawsuit, Roland requests an order declaring the prison defendants have acted in violation of the U.S. Constitution and is asking for compensatory and punitive damages.

Roland’s court-appointed attorney could not be reached for comment.

Altoona Mirror records show that Roland initially came to the attention of police in April 2019 when he was discovered living in the closed Belmar Hotel at 1501 Fourth Ave.

He was considered at that point to be homeless.

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