CLEARFIELD – Six of seven SCI-Houtzdale inmates accused of assaulting guards had a joint preliminary hearing on Friday.
Rhonshawn Jackson, Paul Ford and Nathan Izzard faces charges of aggravated assault; assault by life prisoner; assault by prisoner; riot; simple assault; disorderly conduct and harassment.
Donny Jackson, Curtis Gibbs and Gregory Cain face charges of aggravated assault; assault by prisoner; riot; simple assault; disorderly conduct and harassment.
The first to testify was Corrections Officer Dave Miller. He said that he was working the chow line, taking meal tickets from prisoners before they got their food. He explained that meal tickets were given to prisoners to ensure that they did not double up on meals.
On March 19, he said that Rhonshawn Jackson was in line and had thrown his ticket to the ground. He said he told Rhonshawn Jackson to pick it up and present it to him so he could make sure that it was fraudulent. He said he then ordered Rhonshawn Jackson to pick it up, and the inmate refused.
“He told me to pick it up,” said Miller.
“Is that how it works,” asked Clearfield County District Attorney William A. Shaw Jr. “Do inmates tell officers what to do?”
“No,” replied Miller.
He said the inmate then decided to argue with him and then told him it was an accident and that he dropped it. Miller said he asked Rhonshawn Jackson to pick the ticket up several times before he called for backup. He said a sergeant came to help with the situation and spoke with the inmate. Miller said that Rhonshawn Jackson was loud and boisterous. He said Rhonshawn Jackson turned to the other inmates and said, “Are we gonna do this?” He said Rhonshawn Jackson then took his coat off and punched him in the face.
Miller said once he regained his composure he ordered Rhoshawn Jackson to submit to be restrained. He said Rhoshawn Jackson then punched him in the face again. He said other inmates joined in and began attacking the sergeant. He said that after he regained his composure from that strike he attempted to keep other the inmates from striking the sergeant and other CO’s who had responded.
Miller said that as a result of the assault he suffered a fracture on the bridge of his nose.
Next Lt. Eric Tice testified that in his role as the intelligence gathering captain he was called in to review the recorded footage of the assault. The review of the footage took the majority of the hearing. Tice and those at the hearing watched the footage, which showed a man that Tice identified as Rhonshawn Jackson, punching Miller in the face. From there a melee ensued between a number of CO’s and inmates.
Tice identified all of the inmates charged in the footage. This became a sticking point to the defense attorneys, who questioned Tice about how he could determine if one of their clients was hitting someone or how he could identify their clients. The footage itself was hard to make out at times.
During closing arguments Shaw asked to amend the complaints and add another charge of aggravated assault and criminal conspiracy. Shaw said the video spoke for itself.
Chris Mohney, who represents Gibbs, layered his argument for dismissal. He argued that the commonwealth has to show that his client struck one of the CO’s one time and with the intent to cause serious bodily injury.
“I can’t see how the court could ascertain it was Mr. Gibbs,” said Mohney. He also pointed to case law that stated that one punch could not cause serious bodily injury.
Shaw argued that there is also case law that takes into account places and circumstances in such cases. Shaw pointed out that there was a riot going on and it created a particular environment.
The other defense attorneys, Gary Knaresboro, Damion Beaver, Paul Colovecchi, Charles Brace and Joseph Ryan had similar argumets to Mohney’s in one fashion or another.
Magisterial District Judge James Hawkins denied Shaw’s motion to add the conspiracy charge, but did allow for the second aggravated assault charge. Hawkins bound all charges on the six defendants to the next level of court.
The seventh defendant, Deablo Clentscale, was unable to appear due to potentially having H1N1. He is currently in quarantine. His hearing is scheduled for Nov. 25.