SCRANTON -- The Lackawanna County prison board called a special meeting Friday, days after a lawsuit was filed against more than two dozen county and prison officials claiming sexual abuse of inmates. The board voted to appoint a special investigator to investigate those claims.
This is the first public move the Lackawanna County prison board has made since sexual abuse allegations first came to light six months ago.
Six corrections officers have been suspended with pay all that time. Just this week, more allegations of abuse were released in a federal lawsuit.
"We want to discuss the prison operations and procedures in light of recent allegations that were made," said Judge Vito Geroulo.
Lackawanna County's prison board very quickly moved to executive session at its specially scheduled meeting. They met to launch their own investigation. A lawsuit now brings more sexual abuse allegations against prison employees and alleges a widespread cover-up.
Six corrections officers are already being investigated for alleged assaults on an inmate.
The federal civil lawsuit filed just this week is almost 50 pages long and names more than 50 county employees as defendants.
Those defendants are dozens of prison employees, the district attorney's office, and former and current commissioners.
"Even though the allegations against me are obviously political," Commissioner Pat O'Malley went on to say in a statement, "These false allegations, especially against the DA's office, fly in the face of justice and are offensive. Nevertheless, and solely to be fair and uniform and avoid the appearance of impropriety, I think it appropriate for me to abstain from a vote to appoint an investigator."
The lawsuit alleges that some prison employees failed to report abuse committed by Officer Joe Black who is serving time for abusing inmates.
The suit also says county employees have impeded the current investigation into further abuse.
"I'm not understanding at all why it's taking six months to investigate accusations that would take probably six weeks for the average citizen," said one woman, the only member of the public to attend the prison board meeting.
Her son is an inmate at the Lackawanna County Prison.
Corrections Officer Scott Blume was charged with assault earlier this month for allegedly spraying her son's genitals with pepper spray.
"Knowing something happened to my son that I consider sexual abuse, it's tearing me apart. I feel for all of these victims and I hope more come out. I mean, I'll be there for them. Somebody has to be there, obviously they don't have family because there's no one here. But, my son has family and I am here."
The special investigator appointed by the prison board is Amil Minora, a Scranton-based civil attorney. That investigation is separate from the one currently in the hands of the district attorney's office.
We asked the district attorney about that investigation. He said ethically, he could not comment on its progress.