Allegheny County Council member demanding answers after man dies at county jail

ALLEGHENY COUNTY, Pa. — An Allegheny County Council member is demanding answers after a man died in custody at the county jail last week.

“The reality is more people are going to die in that jail if something doesn’t change tomorrow,” Councilwoman at-large Bethany Hallam said.

Hallam is a member of the jail oversight board.

“I’ve been on this board for a little over two years now. One death is too many,” she said.

The medical examiner identified the latest inmate death as 39-year-old Victor Zilinek. He was booked into the jail the day before he died. The jail tells us three inmates have died so far this year and 12 since the beginning of 2020.

Hallam says the board hasn’t been given the access it should.

“The jail is funded with taxpayer dollars,” she said. “There’s so much frustration that, not I’m just feeling, but the loved ones of the people who died in the jail. And, yet, we need other folks to step up. I feel like I’m screaming from the rooftops every single day.”

She’s referring to Warden Orlando Harper and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

Channel 11 reached out to both today. We were told Fitzgerald was not available for an interview. Jail communications sent us a statement saying in part, “police are conducting an investigation and an internal review will be conducted.”

“We have loved ones of the people who died in the jail showing up, begging for answers. When they can’t even get answers, when the oversight board can’t even get answers, how is anyone supposed to get answers,” Hallam said.

Oversight board meetings are open to the public. Meetings happen once a month. The next meeting date has not been set.

Full statement from the jail:

“As with all incidents at the facility, the county police are conducting an investigation and an internal review will be conducted. Identification of the incarcerated individual came from the Allegheny County Office of the Medical Examiner according to its protocols. Also, since this is an ongoing investigation, we cannot grant an interview at this time.”

Statement from Brian Englert, president of the Allegheny County Prison Employees Independent Union:

“Last week’s death in custody was unfortunate. I have the same details reported to the media. Unfortunately, I have no further information to comment on.”

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