After less than two hours of deliberation, a Centre County jury found a Benner state prison inmate not guilty of assaulting a corrections officer.
Charges were filed against Joel Quinones, 26, in November 2015 when Correction Officer Joshua Colpeltzer claimed Quinones had struck him in the face. According to the criminal complaint, Quinones became argumentative and uncooperative when told he could not have a photo album.
Colpeltzer attempted to escort Quinones from the room when Quinones allegedly struck him in the face with his elbow, the complaint said.
Quinones is serving a sentence at Benner for robbery, according to his defense attorney, Richard Settgast.
Quinones’ jury trial began Monday at the Centre County Courthouse Annex under Centre County Judge Jonathan Grine. Evidence provided in trial included photographs of injuries sustained by both Colpeltzer and Quinones.
Tuesday saw testimony by Colpeltzer’s supervisor, Lt. Sayne Reiter, who testified that he responded to the radio call indicating there was trouble in the property room. Upon his arrival, he said, it was “obvious Quinones was struggling with the officers.”
Reiter testified that Quinones stopped struggling when he entered the room, possibly because he recognized Reiter’s position of authority over the other officers and his ability to grant or rescind inmate privileges, or possibly, as Settgast suggested, he recognized Reiter as someone he could trust.
Reiter said Quinones didn’t appear afraid at the time, but also admitted he didn’t follow up on finding the source of Quinones’ injuries, which included a cut on the head.
A former Benner inmate, Charles DiGiglio, also testified, saying he was sweeping the hallway when the incident occurred.
According to DiGiglio’s testimony, Quinones had attempted to slip some tobacco into his jumpsuit but was caught. When Colpeltzer attempted to pull Quinones’ pant leg up, he lost his balance and hit his face on a table.
The other officers “dumped” Quinones, DiGiglio said, causing him to hit his shoulder off a table and his head off the floor.
In closing arguments, Settgast argued that none of the guards who testified said how Quinones was injured and urged the jury to look at the evidence to find the truth. Assistant District Attorney Jessica Lathrop argued that the law and Department of Corrections policy allows force in their work, adding that DiGiglio’s testimony was not credible.
The jury returned a not-guilty verdict to both the charges of aggravated assault and simple assault.
Settgast said this is the third inmate he’s defended that has been found not guilty of the charges brought against him.
“Both myself and my client are pleased with this outcome,” he said. “I’m glad the jury was able to look at the evidence and didn’t judge (Quinones) just as an inmate.”