Contact: William Lukas, Dir. of Communications, Abolitionist Law Center firstname.lastname@example.org
Date: Thursday, June 2, 2022
Time: 2:30 PM EST
Location: City County Building at 414 Grant St, Pittsburgh, PA 15219
PITTSBURGH – This Thursday, the family of Gerald Thomas, alongside victims and survivors of Allegheny County Jail (ACJ), will gather on the steps Pittsburgh’s City County Building to call attention to both the ongoing crises of deaths and medical neglect overseen by Warden Orlando Harper, and the racist judicial misconduct deployed by local Allegheny County Judge Anthony Mariani.
Thursday’s event takes place just days after Juana Sanders, the mother of Gerald Thomas, went public with her judicial misconduct filing against Mariani. Thomas died in Allegheny County Jail on March 6, 2022 – 17 days after Mariani chose to keep Thomas trapped inside ACJ despite all of his charges being dropped.
Mariani’s probation detainer kept Thomas incarcerated at ACJ for almost a year prior to his death on the basis of charges that were the product of illegal police conduct. Instead of lifting Thomas’ probation detainer during a February 17th probation hearing and releasing him from ACJ, Mariani decided to keep Thomas incarcerated. He justified this decision by using anti-Black racist dog whistles and illegally obtained evidence, thereby openly defying a 2016 Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that held evidence obtained via an illegal search is inadmissible in probation proceeding.
Judge Mariani’s racist retribution towards Thomas was most exemplified by his statement, “I don’t want to see you dead in the street on Friday or any other day of the week, but you won’t quit. I have to put you in the cage, lasso you, corral you, stuff you because you won’t quit.” Community members can read all of Mariani’s remarks in the official court transcript of the February Gagnon II hearing here.
The death of Gerald Thomas is one of three known deaths to occur at ACJ this year. At least fourteen people have died under Warden Harper’s watch since the beginning of the pandemic. During a March 7th press conference, the day after Thomas died, his family revealed that they were not notified by Harper or the jail surrounding Thomas’ condition, but instead, received news via an incarcerated individual that, “Thomas had collapsed, hit his head and was unresponsive.” When his family called the jail but they were refused information about whether Thomas was hospitalized or ACJ, whether he was dead or alive.
Allegheny County Jail’s next of kin policy and how the Jail Oversight Board (JOB) is notified of medical emergencies and deaths have come under fire over the past year. Speakers at Thursday’s rally, including members of the Abolitionist Law Center, 1Hood, and Alliance for Police Accountability will call for policy changes in how jail staff respond to incarcerated individuals’ requests for medical attention, and how emergency contacts and impacted family members are notified.
Allegheny County Jail has one of the highest suicide rates of local jails in the nation and in 2019, had more uses of force than any other jail in Pennsylvania. Since 2020, sustained pressure from community groups and mounting lawsuits filed by prisoners’ rights groups like ALC have exposed how incarcerated community members under Warden Harper’s administration are not only routinely denied adequate medical and mental healthcare, but are also violently brutalized and endure solitary confinement as a form of punishment.
Attendees for Thursday’s event are asked to wear white shirts in solidarity with Gerald Thomas’ family and loved ones lost to ACJ. Following the rally and press conference, participants are encouraged to join families and advocates at the monthly JOB Meeting at 4pm (436 Grant St, Allegheny County Courthouse, 4th Fl Gold Room), where they will provide public comment to Warden Orlando Harper and JOB members.
“A man died in jail. Now his mother calls for an investigation into a judge’s decision to keep him there despite charges being dropped.” by Brittany Hailer for Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism (05/26/2022)
“Woman whose son died in Allegheny County Jail accuses judge of misconduct” by Mik Stinelli for The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (05/29/2022)
“Mother of man who died in jail requests investigation into judge’s alleged misconduct” by Jordana Rosenfield for Pittsburgh CityPaper (05/31/2022)
“Family of man who died in Allegheny County Jail demands justice” by Chris Hoffman for KDKA/CBS Pittsburgh (06/02/2022)
“Allegheny County Jail staffing shortage could be hurting incarcerated people, community members worry” by Julia Zenkevich for 90.5 WESA (06/03/2022)