Trial begins for inmate accused in Houtzdale prison riot

The trial for one of the five inmates accused of being involved with a Houtzdale state prison riot began Monday in Clearfield County Court.

Isaiah Samir Lakeem Hall, 26, is charged with aggravated assault, simple assault, assault by prisoner, riot, disorderly conduct and criminal conspiracy in connection with an inmate riot at the prison in April 2015. In the aftermath, four corrections officers were taken to UPMC Altoona for treatment and the facility was on lockdown for about eight hours.

Three corrections officers testified to their recollections of that day, like Ralph Dickson, 58, of Blair County, who has since retired. He struggled with one inmate in the south yard of the prison before hearing a radio call say “they’re coming.”

“After that, I don’t know what happened because someone kicked me in the head,” Dickson testified. When he regained consciousness, he was lying next to Sgt. John Ames, who was being stomped on and kicked by inmates.

Other officers came and took him to the infirmary before he was taken to UPMC Altoona for treatment. Dickson explained he suffered numerous bruises, contusions, broken teeth, a concussion, shoulder injuries and his face swelled. He continues to have problems with his shoulder and arm.

When Ames, 47, of Clearfield ,woke up, he tried to get up but was advised to stay down. Ames was taken by helicopter to UPMC Altoona. He suffered a laceration that needed eight to ten staples near his ear, a laceration that needed four staples on the top of his head, a concussion, brain injury and a rib injury.

Ames testified that he still has to go to a neurologist because he suffers from headaches and dizziness.

Sgt. Seth Burggraf, 27, of Cambria County, said he saw other staff members on the ground being kicked. He was punched and then fell to the ground where he was punched and kicked repeatedly.

Burggraf suffered a dislocated jaw and a concussion. He sees a neurologist regularly and attends therapy for a speech impediment. He explained because of his severe brain injury, he can’t do any type of police work. If he has another brain injury, he could possibly end up in a coma or lose his ability to speak permanently, he said.

All three men reviewed video footage shown by District Attorney William A. Shaw Jr. and identified the same inmate wearing a hat and boots as one of the men who assaulted them.

In his opening statements, Shaw said Hall’s boots were recovered and sent for analysis. Blood found on them showed Ames’s DNA.

The trial is scheduled to run through Thursday.

Three other inmates have already pleaded guilty and have been sentenced in this case. Richard Adams, 35, received a total of 15 to 30 years in state prison. Norman Wothman, 53, was given 35 to 70 years in state prison and Bahair Stafford, 29, will serve five to 15 years in state prison.

The case against one other inmate, Yafest Oliver, 28, is still pending. He signed a plea agreement but has since made a motion to withdraw that plea because he claims he was under the influence of Topamax and Benedryl when he signed it.