Delaware County is facing two new lawsuits, one related to a former guard at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility who claims he was fired for being a whistleblower, and the other related to the juvenile detention center scandal that first erupted into public knowledge in 2021
Mario Colucci is a former correctional officer at the George W. Hill facility, and says he was illegally fired in retribution for blowing the whistle on problems in the combination jail-prison.
According to Colucci’s complaint, he had worked there starting in 1992, and had been promoted in 2008 to the position of deputy warden of security.
Colucci says he told higher-ups at the prison that a lieutenant falsified payroll documents, “stealing time and money from the County[.]” He also says he reported that a sergeant “put the public at risk by allowing a prisoner outside the secure perimeter of the correctional facility.”
The complaint offered no other details about the prisoner being outside the secure perimeter, such as the time of day or if the prisoner was supervised.
In addition to those claims, Colucci says the pretext for his firing was “failure to perform” but he alleges other persons at the prison have also been accused of failure to perform, but have kept their jobs.
Colucci’s suit was originally filed in Montgomery County, but has since been moved to Delaware County. Requests for comment to Colucci’s attorney were not returned.
In the other new lawsuit, an anonymous 20-year old filed suit in federal court against the county alleging he or she was abused while in the Delaware County Juvenile Detention Center years before.
The person’s attorney, Guy D’Andrea, said the new filing brings to ten the number of persons formerly detained at the facility who have filed suit in the wake of the system-wide, years-long scandal breaking into the open in 2021.
A subsequent grand jury investigation found a culture of abuse across many government agencies in Delaware County, but declined to recommend charges for a number of reasons.
“Despite uncovering a culture of violence, ‘sexually inappropriate conduct’ by male detention staff, and cover-ups, the grand jury chose not to recommend criminal charges in the case, citing statute of limitations issues, high standard of proof, and the passage of time,” a report from WHYY noted.
A part of the grand jury report said “While we believe that certain juveniles credibly reported abuse either at the time, or before this Grand Jury, too much time has passed and/or insufficient admissible evidence exists to sustain a criminal conviction.”
D’Andrea said he’s certain there should be many more victims coming forward to take legal action, but reaching them and informing them is difficult, noting that even many older and educated persons aren’t always certain of their legal rights.
“I have [adult friends] who have successful careers, who are like, ‘I know it’s going to sound like my head was under a rock, but I didn’t know that you could sue an organization for this. I didn’t know you could actually hold the county responsible because I just thought the government has all the power and they can do whatever they want and what am I supposed to do?’” D’Andrea said.
“Now you take that sort of mentality of an adult, an educated adult, and you now go back to the mind of a 17- or 18-year old — they just don’t have that concept. No one’s ever taught them, no one’s ever worked with them, and they have a tremendous amount of trust issues their whole life. They’ve been around people in authority who’ve done nothing but abuse them.”
While the initial complaints against the county for the years of abuse at the DCJDC have been slowly grinding away at many of the initial, time-consuming elements required in a federal lawsuit, D’Andrea said he expects discovery to begin in earnest in many of the cases early next year.
The county did not comment on the claims in either of the new lawsuits, citing pending litigation.
All the fresh litigation comes at a time when the county is already spending millions of dollars more than past years for legal assistance outside of the county’s own solicitor.
Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at email@example.com, or use his encrypted email at firstname.lastname@example.org. @shepherdreports