Former inmate sues Mercer jail

posted February 14, 2020

Former inmate sues Mercer jail

Nathan Bottiger. Butler Eagle 1/31/2020
Former inmate sues Mercer jail
Alleges he was held in solitary confinement
Nathan BottigerEagle Staff Writer
January 31, 2020 Local News

A Butler County man has sued the state secretary of corrections and a state prison, claiming his civil rights were violated by unnecessarily putting him in solitary confinement for more than nine months.

“It was bad,” said the plaintiff, Mark Bowman of Slippery Rock. “Those feelings of being lost, hopeless, depressed, there's this huge weight on you, and you just want to die.”

Bowman filed the lawsuit Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania against John Wetzel, state secretary of corrections, and Melinda Adams, superintendent of State Correctional Institution of Mercer.

Efforts to contact Adams regarding Bowman's stay in solitary confinement were unanswered. A spokesman for the state Department of Corrections said the agency does not comment on pending legislation.

The lawsuit was filed simultaneously with one by Washington County resident Timothy Waldron, whose own lawsuit alleges the same offense at the Mercer facility.

Butler lawyers Al Lindsay and Max Roesch represent both men.

Rights allegedly violated
Bowman's lawsuit states he was unlawfully detained and while incarcerated, he was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of his civil and constitutional rights.

The complaint states Bowman was held in solitary confinement without any hearing or due process.

In the suit, Bowman said he felt compelled to plead guilty to a crime he did not commit because of the traumatic experience of being held in “the hole” for so long.

Bowman was arrested for probation violation in August 2018 in Ohio, the day after he had been arrested and released on his own recognizance on identity theft charges filed in Venango County.

Accused of stealing identity
The lawsuit alleges Mike Wiggins, a former employee of Bowman's business, Franklin Manufacturing and Powder Co. in Franklin, Pa., falsely accused Bowman of stealing his identity.

Bowman had fired Wiggins in 2016 for fighting with coworkers, destroying company property and alienating customers, the lawsuit states.

After his arrest for probation violation, Bowman said he was taken to SCI-Mercer, where he allegedly was placed directly into solitary confinement.

Bowman said it was explained to him that any new charge while he was on probation would send him immediately to a state facility and into solitary confinement.

Bowman said he was held among prisoners who were murderers and rapists.

“The 'hole' is set aside for the worst of the worst,” he said. “I didn't have a pillow. I didn't have another pair of underwear. You're looked at as the worst of the worst, and they don't even know why you're there.”

Bowman said he never was written up for bad behavior and was respectful to correctional officers, even though the respect was not mutual.
Bowman said he never was told how long he would be incarcerated or about any upcoming court or hearing dates.

The lawsuit alleges there were multiple violations of the “Inmate Handbook” over the course of months during which Bowman had been housed in “the hole.”
The handbook, which is published by the Department of Corrections, dictates policies relating to inmates statewide.

Bowman later met with his defense attorney, John Lakatos; Assistant District Attorney Joshua Fleeger; and a police detective in the Venango County Courthouse regarding the identity theft case.

“I was begging them to set a court date so I could get let go, so I could fight this new case,” Bowman said.

Bowman said he was taken back to solitary confinement at SCI-Mercer, where he stayed for another four months.

Says blindsided in court
The lawsuit states Bowman was taken to court in Venango County in June 2019 and told that a jury would be selected that day for his trial.

Bowman said he was blindsided, and didn't know why he was going to court. He said he didn't have civilian clothes to wear into the courtroom was forced to wear his prison uniform in front of potential jurors.

“I'm looking at them and they're looking at me, and I'm thinking, 'I'm already sunk,' ” he said.
Bowman said it was that moment combined with the feeling of helplessness brought on by months without human contact that prompted him to ask for a plea deal.

He said while working toward the deal, Lakatos called the Ohio court system for status of his probation hearings.

The lawsuit said it was revealed Bowman missed multiple court dates and appearances for the Ohio probation violation while incarcerated at SCI-Mercer, and that his probation had ended.

He said it cleared the way for negotiations for a plea deal for the identity theft charge, and he wanted to be out of solitary confinement.

“The reason I did that, at that point, I had already lost everything,” Bowman said. “I thought it was a hopeless situation, so I pleaded guilty that day.”

After the plea, Bowman said he went back to SCI-Mercer.

Returned to solitary
Once there, he was placed again in solitary confinement. Ten days later — on June 12 — he was released from prison because of time served on the identity theft charge.

“I had told everybody what was going on from day one,” Bowman said. “Nobody cared that my probation had been dropped. They didn't care. Nobody did a thing about it.”

Before his incarceration, Bowman owned a home, a business and was married with two small children.
Bowman left SCI-Mercer divorced without custody of his children. His business had folded because he couldn't pay employees while in prison.

He said the trauma of solitude ate away at him psychologically. He said he asked multiple times to see a psychologist or counselor while incarcerated, but every time he was denied.

“I can still function as a human being, but I have PTSD, anxiety, depression, especially when I'm talking about this stuff,” he said.

Bowman said his lawsuit is not just about compensation for what was allegedly taken from him.

“There are guys down there right now,” Bowman said of solitary confinement. “That's part of this lawsuit is to change these policies.”