SCRANTON -- A corrections officer at the Lackawanna County Prison appeared in court Friday to answer to accusations that he sexually assaulted seven female inmates over a nine year period beginning in 2002. He's facing 22 separate charges.
This wraps up a two year long investigation into alleged misconduct on the part of Corrections Officer Joe Black from Dickson City. Black has been off the job at the Lackawanna County Prison all that time. Investigators said Black used his position to bribe and have sex with female inmates. He's also accused of raping some inmates starting when he was new on the job back in 2002.
Joseph Black of Dickson City has not worn his corrections officer uniform for two years. He's been suspended that long while police and a grand jury tried to make sense of accusations against Black. Accusations made while he was working as a corrections officer at the Lackawanna County Prison in Scranton.
Detectives filed 22 different sex charges, saying Black used his position of power to bribe female inmates into sexual relationships even raping them in secluded areas of the prison.
Those accusations shocked visitors to the prison Friday afternoon.
"Things like that should not happen anywhere especially a public official, someone who is in an authority position to be doing stuff like that, that's just not right," said Sidd Shabazz of Philadelphia.
Black was charged with rape and institutional sexual assault. Court papers list seven female inmates as Black's alleged victims. The women told police Black would buy them gifts for sex. One woman said Black handcuffed her and raped her in her cell.
According to court papers, the inmates and other corrections officers at first didn't come forward because they feared retribution from Black. Folks visiting the prison Friday said that is a culture that got out of hand here.
"Just letting them come in here and do whatever they want? Is this the justice system we want around here? People are already doing time in here and they got to get raped and molested too?" added Lakeemah Bennett of Taylor.
"Just because people come to jail doesn't mean that their civil rights should be violated, and I know first hand because I have a loved one there," said Genevieve Toole of Dickson City.
Other corrections officers told a grand jury they became suspicious of Black because he would volunteer to look over the female inmates, which men typically do not do.
Black's attorney said it never went beyond that.
"He didn't do it, it's pretty simple, he just didn't do it. These are completely false allegations," said Joe DeAndrea, Black's defense attorney.
Investigators said the seven women listen in the affidavit are no longer at the Lackawanna County Prison. Some of them have since filed a federal civil lawsuit against Black.
Black was released on bail Friday and still suspended with pay from the prison.