Prison responds to guard's drug smuggling charges

Somerset County, Pa. - Shawn Kirkpatrick is accused of smuggling drugs into the State Correctional Institution in Somerset over the past few months. The 39-year-old appeared in court Thursday.

"My client has plead not guilty early on. He also signed papers today maintaining his innocence. No doubt about that," said Thomas Dickey, Kirkpatrick's defense attorney. 

State police say they suspected an inmate, Akil Johnson, was distributing illegal drugs into the institution and that Kirkpatrick was working with him. Kirkpatrick's preliminary hearing will be rescheduled until his attorney can examine the evidence.

"I want to hear tapes. I want to hear phone calls. I want to see things," Dickey said.

In a criminal complaint, police say surveillance video at the prison shows Johnson hand Kirkpatrick an envelope, the two appear to argue, then Kirkpatrick leaves with the envelope. Prison officials say Johnson had no reason to be on the block where Kirkpatrick was working.

Police monitored Johnson's phone calls and emails and set up a drug drop-off with an undercover officer on November 7. That's when police say Kirkpatrick was found with one of the suspects in the alleged trafficking ring. Investigators also say phone calls and messages on Kirkpatrick's cell phone had been deleted.

"Any drugs that were taken into the prison, supposedly this is all just based on words of other people that were in trouble. So, we find that credibility highly in question," Dickey said.

The Somerset County District Attorney's office says the investigation is ongoing and there may be other individuals charged in this case.

Prison officials said they can't comment on personnel matters or new security measures. However SCI Somerset Public information Officer Allen Joseph said, "We're taking every step we can to increase and tighten security."

These charges come just two months after SCI Somerset was put on lockdown several times after an inmate overdosed and contraband items were found at the prison. Another correctional officer was sentenced earlier this year for bringing drugs into the prison.

Prison officials couldn't comment on specific efforts to prevent other guards from smuggling in drugs, but Joseph said, "Those situations do arise and if they do arise, we certainly cooperate with state police in conducting and prosecuting any type of investigation."

Dickey said his focus now is on getting his client back home and proving his innocence.

"Our main goal right now is to get my client out of jail," Dickey said.

Dickey said he plans to file a motion to reduce Kirkpatrick's bail, which is currently set at $100,000. Until then, Kirkpatrick will remain behind bars at the Somerset County Jail.

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