Blunt force trauma to the head cited as cause of death for former Catholic priest incarcerated at Allegheny County Jail

By Brittany Hailer

Paul Spisak, an incarcerated person at the Allegheny County Jail, suffered blunt force trauma to the head resulting in his Jan. 30 death, according to a press release from the Allegheny County Medical Examiner today. His manner of death was ruled an accident, but no details were provided. 

Spisak, 77, a former Catholic priest who was named in the state’s 2018 grand jury report on clergy sexual abuse, died at Allegheny General Hospital following an incident that left him unresponsive in his cell on Jan. 22, 2022. 

Allegheny County Police Inspector Michael Peairs said the jail staff checked on Spisak on Jan. 22 in order to provide him with his medications. 

“Officers went to check on him and he was not responsive in front of his toilet,” said Peairs.

Spisak was in a “semi-conscious state” and was “not coherent,” according to Peairs.

There are no cameras in the cells due to privacy reasons, Peairs said, but their investigation concluded that Spisak “hit his head somewhere in his cell.” Spisak was in a single cell and did not have a cellmate, according to Peairs.

Before the county police shared details about Spisak, Jail Spokesman Jesse Geleynse cited health privacy laws as the reason no further information was being released by the jail. 

“As you know, the HIPAA Privacy Rule protects the private health information of a person for 50 years following their death, so we are unable to provide any further detail or clarification relative to Mr. Spisak’s death,” Geleynse wrote.

Spisak was committed to the Allegheny County Jail in December for an invasion of privacy charge and a probation violation. He was accused of taking a video of a 13-year-old inside the East Liberty Target store bathroom. 

Spisak was found unresponsive in his cell on Jan 22, but was “alert and stable after response by the medical team” before he was transported to the hospital, Jesse Geleynse, spokesperson for the Allegheny County Jail, wrote in an email in February.

“The hospital advised that he had numerous medical complications and recommended that next of kin was notified and engaged in treatment and care conversations with the hospital,” Geleynse wrote. 

The court released Spisak from the custody of the jail on Jan. 28 due to his deteriorating medical condition. As a result the Jail Oversight Board was not notified of Spisak’s release or the incident that resulted in a medical transfer. The Jail Oversight Board was also not notified of Spisak’s death. His death became public through media reports. 

Spisak is one of three men who have died after entering the jail this year. The others are:

Gerald Thomas, 26, died in March at UPMC Mercy where he was taken after suffering a medical emergency in the jail. 

Jerry Lee Ross Jr., 48, died at the Allegheny County Jail in April after staff were unable to resuscitate him in his cell.

No further information has been provided about the circumstances surrounding their medical emergencies. Since the start of the pandemic,  14 men have died after entering the facility.

If you have any information about a death at the Allegheny County Jail, contact Brittany Hailer at or via Twitter @BrittanyHailer.

This story has been updated to include information from the Allegheny County Police.