Incarcerated person dies following incident at Allegheny County Jail

By Brittany Hailer

Paul Spisak, 77, died Sunday in a hospital after the court released him from Allegheny County Jail custody following an incident that left him unresponsive in his cell on Jan. 22.  

The jail has not clarified what incident resulted in Spisak’s condition. 

Spisak was committed to the Allegheny County Jail on Jan. 4 for an invasion of privacy charge and a probation violation. He was accused of taking a video of a 13-year-old inside a Target store bathroom. Spisak, a former Catholic priest, was named in the state’s 2018 grand jury report on clergy sexual abuse. 

Jesse Geleynse, spokesperson for the Allegheny County Jail, said Spisak was found unresponsive in his cell on Jan 22, but was “alert and stable after response by the medical team.” He was transported to a local hospital.

“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,” said Geleynse in an email.

The court released Spisak from the custody of the jail on Jan. 28 due to his medical condition. The Jail Oversight Board was not notified of Spisak’s release or the incident that resulted in a medical transfer.

County Councilwoman Bethany Hallam wrote in an email, “Someone died at a hospital barely a week after ‘being found unresponsive’—a medicalized euphemism to hide the specifics of the situation—and neither the jail administration nor the county told anyone on the Jail Oversight Board a word about it.”

Hallam, a JOB member, said the board has “no way of verifying” how often medical transfers from the jail result in deaths.

“It is almost impossible to conclude anything else except that the  jail administration actively and intentionally hides medical emergencies and deaths that either occur at the jail or occur after a transferring of the person to a hospital (or elsewhere),” Hallam wrote. 

Spisak is the second man to die following an incident in the jail in less than two months, and he is the twelfth person to die following a medical emergency in the jail since April 2020.

The Medical Examiner’s office has taken jurisdiction in Spisak’s case and will determine cause and manner of death. 

Brittany Hailer can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @BrittanyHailer.