York prison inmate says he was a willing participant in 'fight club'

Liz Evans Scolforo

Attorneys for three former York County Prison guards on trial for allegedly running an inmate "fight club" and "retard olympics" had less success Wednesday in discrediting an inmate prosecution witness than they had the day before.

York County Prison

On Tuesday, they grilled inmate David Wright about his changing versions of events and inconsistencies in his testimony — even calling him a liar as he sat on the witness stand.

But they were unable to shake the testimony of frequent-flyer inmate James Hicks Jr., who testified Wednesday afternoon for the prosecution. Hicks is currently serving a state prison sentence; his criminal record includes burglary, receiving stolen property and numerous thefts.

Hicks could not remember exact dates, but explained it's hard to do that in prison because the unchanging daily routine makes all the days run together. He said it happened between April and July 2013.

He testified he was a willing participant in the games — allegedly presided over by defendants David Whitcomb Jr., Daniel Graff and Mark Haynes — in exchange for food the guards smuggled to him from their lounge area.

"It was all for food," he told jurors. He said it all happened in a South Block closet that had no security camera in it.

The 'challenges': Hicks said he agreed to wrestle Wright, drink water laced with pepper spray, be choked into unconsciousness by Whitcomb, attempt to drink a gallon of milk in an hour, and take the cinnamon challenge, in which participants try to eat a spoonful of the powdery spice.

"It can usually make you choke and cough ... but I was able to do it," he said, because he watched the trick on an episode of MythBusters.

The milk challenge ended with him vomiting violently, he said.

Hicks testified all three guards worked day shift on the South Block, where he was being held.

"I wasn't trying to get these guys caught," he testified. "I tried to keep it hidden. ... I wasn't the first one to talk to Deputy Warden (Clair) Doll."

Sued county: Under vigorous cross examination by attorneys Chris Ferro, Korey Leslie and Steve Rice, Hicks scoffed at the idea he was lying so he could sue the county.

"If I was going to make something up," he said, it would have been "something that would give me just a little more money. Something better than a gallon-of-milk-in-an-hour (challenge)."

Hicks told jurors he did sue the county and settled for $40,000.

"I wouldn't lie to get someone in trouble," he said. "I wouldn't (mess) with somebody's life."

Hicks testified that although Haynes was aware of "retard olympics," he didn't participate in them, mostly staying in "the bubble," which is South Block's security booth.

He admitted he's friendly with Wright, but not true friends.

"You can say (inmates are) your friends, but they're not really your friends," Hicks said. "Who wants to be friends with someone you meet in prison?"

No threats: He told jurors that two prison captains who rousted him in the middle of the night to ask him about "what was going on in South Block" never tried to threaten him or coerce him, as Wright claims they did to him. They merely asked him to submit a written statement, which he did, Hicks said.

Both those captains, William Wagner and Adam Ogle, testified Wednesday, as did Deputy Warden Doll.

Under questioning by senior deputy prosecutor Kelley Nelson, they said they were investigating reports of broken furniture when they first learned of the alleged fight club.

While being cross-examined by Ferro, Wagner admitted Wright — a main witness against the guards — wasn't always honest.

"I know in my own personal interactions with him that he sometimes strayed from the truth," Wagner testified, saying Wright had a history of lying to further his own ends.

Double standard? Wagner and Ogle said they were unaware that Wright maintains they threatened and coerced him to tell them about the fight club. Wagner agreed that such behavior could be cause for discipline or termination.

Defense attorneys hammered home the point that Wright's fight-club claim led to three guards being fired and criminally charged, but his threat claims against the captains went uninvestigated.

Whitcomb, 30, of Hellam Township, Haynes, 28, of Jacobus, and Graff, 40, of York, no longer work for York County, a county spokesman has said.

Prosecutor Nelson said she will be calling more witnesses Thursday.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at