Inmate allegedly beaten by jail guards sentenced on drug charge
NORRISTOWN >> Just days before he is expected to testify against the Montgomery County correctional officers who allegedly beat him while he was in custody awaiting trial, a Philadelphia man learned his fate on a drug conspiracy charge.
Derrick “Irish” Houlihan, 44, of East Stafford Street, was sentenced in county court to 2-to-6-years in a state correctional facility after he pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to engage in possession with intent to deliver heroin in connection with incidents that occurred in Cheltenham in December 2016.
Houlihan’s lawyer, Lawrence Bozzelli, had sought a lesser sentence, arguing mitigating factors existed, including that Houlihan allegedly was assaulted by guards at the county jail in Lower Providence on Valentine’s Day 2017 while he was in custody and suffered broken ribs and facial lacerations.
“He has accepted responsibility for his actions. He regrets it,” Bozzelli argued. “While he was in custody, he was assaulted by corrections officers.”
But Judge Steven T. O’Neill, citing the dangerous nature of heroin, rejected the defense request for a mitigated sentence and imposed a term in the standard range of sentencing guidelines. The judge did not take into account Houlihan’s alleged “victim status.”
“Heroin is a serious drug that is killing people in record numbers. There is a long history of this defendant to remain crime free while he is in the community,” said O’Neill, pointing to Houlihan’s previous convictions for other crimes, including assault.
Houlihan was on parole at the time of his arrest in the Cheltenham drug case. Testimony revealed Houlihan faces a hearing before the state parole board and likely an additional 24 months of prison time for violating that parole.
When Houlihan pleaded guilty to the drug conspiracy charge in September 2017, prosecutors agreed to cap the minimum sentence at two years.
At the sentencing hearing, while Assistant District Attorney Douglas Lavenberg recognized that Houlihan allegedly was assaulted by correctional officers, he asked the judge to consider the dangerous nature of heroin and Houlihan’s role in a conspiracy with others to distribute the drug. Houlihan could have faced up to 15 years in prison on the drugrelated charge.
“This was a drug dealer who was doing this out of greed, because it was his job,” Lavenberg argued.
Houlihan did not comment about the sentence as he was escorted from the courtroom by sheriff’s deputies. Houlihan also declined to comment about the upcoming trial of the five county jailhouse guards who are accused of assaulting him. Houlihan is expected to testify for prosecutors when that trial begins on Jan. 22 before Judge William R. Carpenter.
The five former correctional officers headed to trial include: Darrin Collins, 53, a former lieutenant at the jail, of Phoenixville, Chester County; Alfred Gregory Jr., 34, of East Coventry, Chester County; Edwin Negron, 54, a former captain at the jail, of Exton, Chester County; Anthony Saxby, 32, of Upper Gwynedd; and Randall Sims, 41, of Norristown.
Each of the five men faces charges of aggravated and simple assault, conspiracy to commit aggravated assault, recklessly endangering another person, hindering apprehension or prosecution, official oppression, and obstructing administration of law in connection with the Feb. 14, 2017, assaults of Houlihan and another inmate and the alleged coverup that followed.
At the time of the arrests, authorities said the discovery of “disturbing” video surveillance footage of the beating of Houlihan helped crack the case when officers allegedly tried to cover-up their conduct.
The investigation began when an assistant warden was informed verbally by correctional officers that they used physical force on an inmate. That required the submission of incident reports as well as obtaining jailhouse video surveillance footage that was available, prosecutors said.
When an initial internal review found that some officers may have used excessive force on two prisoners, may have lied about their involvement and took steps to minimize or destroy available surveillance footage, county detectives were notified and a grand jury investigation was initiated.
The grand jury investigation revealed that on Feb. 14 some of the correctional officers were involved with assaulting inmates Houlihan, who wears a prosthetic left leg, and 18-yearold Matthew Ruffings, of Norristown, in two high security areas of the jail.
Prosecutors alleged Houlihan was initially assaulted in his cell, taken for medical treatment, and then assaulted again in a day room area or community area of the K-6 section of the prison. Video surveillance showed Houlihan did not fight back.
According to court documents, Houlihan was not wearing his prosthetic leg at the time of the alleged second beating.
Court papers indicate Houlihan suffered a laceration over his eye during the first assault. Houlihan suffered two broken ribs as well as cuts and abrasions to his arms and his leg during the second alleged assault.
Negron initially claimed to jail officials that Houlihan had been giving staff “problems” and had “acted up” and that force had to be used to return him to his cell. Neither Negron nor Collins fully disclosed the extent of force, according to the grand jury presentment.
Court papers indicate correctional officers may not have been aware that a new camera had been installed in the K-6 section and that it had been actively recording at the time of the assault of Houlihan. When jailhouse officials reviewed the video footage they concluded that what they viewed did not match what correctional officers documented in their incident reports, according to court papers.
In the video footage of the second alleged assault Houlihan is seen “hopping on his one natural leg as he entered K-6 under escort by Saxby and Sims, according to court papers. Houlihan went to the floor face-down and there was no evidence on the video he was assaultive or otherwise combative at that point, the grand jury presentment revealed.
Later, Saxby, Sims and Gregory are observed punching and kicking Houlihan as he flailed on the floor in an apparent attempt to protect himself, authorities alleged. Several of the accused allegedly then “combined efforts to unleash a series of kicks, punches, and stomps onto various parts of Houlihan’s body, including his torso and chest,” according to court papers.
Gregory allegedly also taunted Houlihan as he was on the ground in a helpless position. Gregory is observed kicking Houlihan’s prosthetic leg into a day room and Houlihan was “inexplicably denied the use of his prosthetic leg for approximately 12 hours,” according to the indictment.
Derrick “Irish” Houlihan, 44, of Philadelphia, was sentenced to 2-to-6-years in in prison after he pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to engage in possession with intent to deliver heroin in connection with incidents that occurred in Cheltenham in December 2016.