Inmates fight at Northumberland Courthouse
SUNBURY - One inmate "dove" onto another while yelling racial slurs during a brief disturbance Friday morning in crowded detaining cells at the Northumberland County Courthouse.
Sheriff's department personnel quickly stopped the attack and no one was injured, but President Judge Robert B. Sacavage called for extra security for the remainder of the busy court day.
There were 125 pre-trial conferences scheduled at the courthouse Friday, which led to 18 inmates at one point being housed in three small detaining cells adjacent to the sheriff's department. The congested conditions may have played a role in the disturbance, which broke out at about 11:40 a.m.
Chief Deputy Sheriff Randy Coe said he was escorting Matthew Katona, 22, a state prisoner being housed at the county jail, and another male inmate from one cell to another when Katona dove onto Leon Hastings, 20, of Sunbury, and began fighting with him and yelling racial slurs at the prisoner, who is black.
Katona, who is white, then started yelling racial slurs at some of the white inmates being housed in the cell before being restrained by Sgt. Dwayne Pidcoe and Deputy Sheriff Daniel Zettlemoyer.
Coe, who called for assistance when the disturbance broke out, initially grabbed Hastings and was able to separate him from Katona. Cpl. Robert Wolfe assisted Coe in securing Hastings after he was removed from the cell.
Pidcoe threatened to use a Taser gun on Katona if he didn't desist, but the inmate calmed down before being handcuffed by Pidcoe and Zettlemoyer and transported back to the county jail.
The incident lasted about five minutes, Coe said.
Pidcoe said Katona made references to Nazi dictator Adolph Hitler when yelling at Hastings and several other black inmates.
Coe said he expects Sunbury police to file charges against Katona.
'They can count'
Coe and Pidcoe commended Sacavage for ordering extra security and discontinuing additional transports from the county prison to the courthouse for the remainder of the day.
"Inmates aren't dumb," Pidcoe said. "They can count and know when we are understaffed."
In addition to Coe and Sheriff Chad Reiner, who was working but not at the courthouse at the time, there are five full-time deputies in the sheriff's department. Deputy sheriff Justin Harrington was serving civil papers at the time of the disturbance. Wolfe and Deputy Sheriff Henry Schrader were assigned to the courtrooms of Sacavage and Judge William H. Wiest, respectively, when the disturbance broke out. Judge Charles H. Saylor was working on a case in his chambers Friday, but didn't have a deputy assigned to him because there were no legal proceedings in his courtroom.
In trouble before
Katona had been incarcerated at SCI-Huntingdon before being transferred Dec. 27 to the county prison to await his legal case involving incidents at SCI-Coal Township.
After Friday's incident, he is being kept in solitary confinement in the county jail, according to prison operations commander Brian Wheary.
Katona is classified by the state as a level 4 inmate, meaning he's been in trouble during his incarceration.
Wheary said Katona hasn't caused any "major" problems since he's been at the county jail.
"We keep all the state inmates separate from the rest of the general population," Wheary said. "They get their recreation time, but not with county inmates. We do that to avoid any trouble."
Katona was charged by Trooper Nicholas Berger of state police at Stonington with aggravated assault, simple assault and harassment for allegedly kicking Capt. William Patrick Miller in the groin at SCI-Coal Township on Nov. 15, 2010.
He was charged by Trooper Kirk Renn of state police at Stonington with aggravated harassment by a prisoner involving a Dec. 25, 2011, disturbance at SCI-Coal Township in which he allegedly spit on Corrections Officer Brian Clayton and inmate Ernesto Perez through a wicker door.
Trooper Kevin Kearney of state police at Stonington also charged Katona with aggravated harassment by a prisoner for allegedly spitting at Corrections Officer Theodore Benza in the face on Nov. 4, 2010.
Hastings has been incarcerated at the county prison since May on burglary and aggravated assault charges.
Neither Katona nor Hastings had their legal proceedings Friday due to the disturbance.