Pa. warden will keep job after former CO suicide

Henry “Sonny” Caruso, 49, was a former Westmoreland CO who died by suicide Nov. 6

By Rich Cholodofsky

GREENSBURG, Pa. — The latest attempt to fire John Walton, warden of the Westmoreland County Prison, failed on Friday.

Commissioner Gina Cerilli, with the backing of more than a dozen current and former jail guards in attendance at the prison board meeting, demanded that Walton be removed from his job. Cerilli publicly blamed him for the suicide of a suspended veteran guard and said poor oversight and personnel decisions at the jail warranted his termination.

“For years, I voiced my disgust with the warden. We’ve had incident after incident and each and every one of you has turned a blind eye,” Cerilli told the other five prison board members — Commissioners Ted Kopas and Charles Anderson, Controller Jeff Balzer, Sheriff Jonathan Held and District Attorney John Peck.

None supported either of Cerilli’s two motions to fire the warden. Those efforts marked the third and fourth times Cerilli has tried to have Walton fired since she took office in 2015.

The latest incident, according to Cerilli, was the death of Henry “Sonny” Caruso, 49, whose body was discovered Nov. 6 in the front yard of a home owned by Donald O’Brien, Cerilli’s chief of staff. Since Oct. 21, Caruso had been suspended with pay from this job at the jail. County officials declined to discuss the reason for the suspension.

Coroner Ken Bacha last week ruled Caruso’s death a suicide, saying he died of a gunshot wound. His body was discovered in front of O’Brien’s Spring Street home in Mt. Pleasant. O’Brien is married to county Prothonotary Christina O’Brien. They and Caruso were neighbors.

Caruso’s wife, father and other family members attended Friday’s meeting.

John Hostoffer, Caruso’s cousin who is a retired jail officer, read part of a suicide note reportedly left by Caruso.

“They took my job and slandered my name after 25 years working for the county,” the handwritten note stated. “Please somebody hold them accountable!! I DID nothing wrong.”

Walton has been warden since 2003. He declined to comment.

County officials, citing personnel and confidentiality concerns, said they could not comment on the specifics of Caruso’s suspension.

“There are an awful lot of emotions, but when you cut through it the county followed its procedures. If there is a possibility of an issue, you investigate that and we were in the process of investigating. I can’t see in this instance where there was any fault of the warden or anyone else,” Anderson said.

County officials late Friday afternoon released a statement that noted their sadness regarding Caruso’s death and extended “its deepest sympathy” to his family.

“While the county cannot comment on the personnel investigation pending at the time of Mr. Caruso’s death, at this time there is no indication that the personnel investigation was conducted in anything but a routine manner,” the county’s statement read.

Cerilli said she was not involved with the official statement.

“I share in the sympathy and condolences of the passing of Officer Caruso …” Cerilli said via text message. “However, I cannot agree that this was a routine investigation. This matter needs to be subject to further independent review.”

Caruso’s widow, “Sherry” Hui Xu Caruso, said neither she nor her husband have been charged with any crimes.

She confirmed that state and federal agents last month raided massage parlors she owns in Monroeville and Delmont. She also produced a subpoena issued to her husband to testifybefore a state investigating grand jury.

The state attorney general’s office said it could neither confirm nor deny an investigation.

Hui Xu is the owner of Tokyo Massage, an entity started in April 2012, according to state business records.

Sherry Caruso said she is a Chinese immigrant who moved to the United States five years ago. She married Caruso six days before his death. She denied any wrongdoing at her businesses.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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