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Commonwealth Court kicks Fayette prisoner’s appeal of boot ban

October 29, 2018

A state appellate court on Tuesday gave the boot to an inmate’s challenge of a new policy to confiscate prisoners’ work boots after the brutal stomping death of a SCI-Somerset guard in February.

A three-judge Commonwealth Court panel rejected an appeal filed by convicted murderer Brian E. O’Toole, 55, of Allegheny County. He challenged a recent Department of Corrections directive that banned the sale of Timberland or Rocky boots in prison commissaries and confiscated previously purchased boots.

O’Toole is serving a life sentence at SCI-Fayette in connection with the 1997 Mother’s Day stabbing death of his ex-wife in Duquesne.

In his appeal, O’Toole claimed his constitutional right to due process was violated because the boots were confiscated without providing him an in-house prison pre-deprivation hearing “which violated Department of Correction’s own policy.”

“Private property cannot be taken by the government without due process,” O’Toole argued in court documents.

O’Toole also said that the DOC sold him the boots and that they “were the only boots available for purchase.” He sought an injunction to stop the confiscation policy from being implemented, according to court documents.

Judges Renee Cohn Jubelirer, Anne E. Covey and Senior Judge Bonnie Brigance Leadbetter concurred with the state’s argument that allows the agency broad discretion to change policy concerning inmate property “for security and safety reasons.” The court referred to a 1998 state Supreme Court ruling on a similar matter regarding property rights of prisoners.

“Accordingly, the department must enforce reasonable rules of internal prison management to ensure public safety and prison safety. These rules must be modified as conditions change,” the court said in its opinion, which was written by Covey.

On Feb. 26, SCI-Somerset guard Mark Baserman, 60, of Johnstown, died of multiple injuries suffered in a Feb. 15 beating at the prison. He was punched and kicked in the head eight to 10 times by inmate Paul Jawon Kendrick, formerly of Pittsburgh, who is now being held at SCI-Huntingdon.

Kendrick, 23, who is awaiting trial for murder and assault charges in the Somerset beating, was wearing Timberland boots when he assaulted corrections officers, according to state police reports.

Baserman’s death resulted in a call from the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association to ban inmates from wearing heavy boots while incarcerated, and the state agency subsequently concurred.