SCRANTON – Admitted double-murderer Paul Weakley has filed a federal lawsuit against the Luzerne County prison, alleging he was improperly detained in the restricted housing unit in order to coerce him into testifying against his one-time co-defendant, Hugo Selenski.
The lawsuit, which Weakley wrote and filed himself, marks the second time Weakley has sued the prison over his placement in the restricted unit. He previously filed suit in 2006, but he withdrew the complaint after prison officials promised not to place him in the restricted unit should he return to the facility, he claims in the new lawsuit.
The suit, filed Friday, says Weakley was returned to the county prison on March 28, 2008 in anticipation of Selenski’s trial on charges he killed Michael Kerkowski and Tammy Fassett.
Weakley pleaded guilty in January 2008 to federal charges related to both murders. He is now serving a life sentence at a federal prison in Kentucky. He has agreed to testify against Selenski at Selenski’s trial in county court. That trial has yet to occur pending the outcome of appeals on various evidentiary issues.
According to Weakley’s lawsuit, upon his return to the county prison in 2008 he was immediately housed in the restricted unit, despite the settlement that was reached after his prior lawsuit.
Inmates held in the restricted unit receive far fewer privileges. They are given only one hour a day to exercise, are not permitted to have a television or use the law library and are restricted in the items they can purchase from the prison’s commissary.
Weakley contends he was placed in the unit, which is reserved for inmates with disciplinary problems, without being given a hearing as required by prison policy. When he demanded to know why, he was told by a prison official that he was placed there at the request of the District Attorney’s office.
Weakley alleges that during a meeting with prosecutors, a member of the District Attorney’s office told him he was placed in the restricted unit because prosecutors did not want him to be “comfortable.”
“It was made clear to the plaintiff by this official from the Luzerne County District Attorney’s office that with his cooperation in testifying against his co-defendant … changes in the plaintiff’s housing could be made to significantly increase his comfort,” Weakley says in the suit.
Weakley says he wrote dozens of letters to various prison officials objecting to his placement, but he was never provided a hearing. All told he was held in the restricted unit for more than 40 weeks, he says in the suit.
In addition to the prison, the suit names as defendants former warden Gene Fischi, Deputy Warden Sam Hyder, Major James Larson and the prison’s inmate classification committee.
Warden Joseph Piazza said Monday he could not comment on Weakley’s allegations because the incident in question occurred before he became warden. Speaking generally, Piazza said inmates are sometimes housed in the restricted unit because they pose a security threat.