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Philadelphia prison inmate being questioned in his cellmate’s sexual assault and death, source says

Armani Faison, 35, is the latest city jail inmate to die in custody. He was found unresponsive in his cell Saturday morning.

Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Northeast Philadelphia.
Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Northeast Philadelphia.Read moreTIM TAI / Staff Photographer

A Philadelphia inmate who was found unresponsive in his cell over the weekend and later died was raped by another inmate, according to a law enforcement source familiar with the case.

Armani Faison, 35, was discovered on the floor of his cell by a guard at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility on Saturday morning, said authorities, who declined to comment about the sexual assault.

The law enforcement source and Faison’s sister said his battered body bore injuries that included sexual trauma, bite marks on his wrist, a swollen and battered nose, a welt on his chest and a scratch on his shoulder. He was pronounced dead at a hospital Saturday.

His cellmate is being questioned, said the law enforcement source, who asked not to be identified because he is not authorized to speak to reporters.

The 31-year-old on Wednesday had been accused of trying to sexually assault another inmate, according to an internal prison document obtained by The Inquirer. He was then moved into a cell with Faison, who had just arrived at the Northeast Philadelphia jail Wednesday on robbery and arson charges, according to court records.

It is believed that the two men got into a fight after the cellmate tried to sexually assault Faison, the source said.

“Nearby prisoners who were interviewed said Faison kept knocking on the cell and asking for help, but no one came,” the source said. “They said he kept calling for help all night to try and avoid [the cellmate], but no one came.”

After assaulting Faison, the cellmate removed both men’s clothes and broke the fire sprinkler in the cell, causing water to flow in, the source said. Then, he used the clothes to stop the water from seeping out of the cell, a move police believe was designed to destroy DNA evidence, the source said.

At 7:38 a.m. Saturday, a guard discovered Faison naked on the floor. He was rushed to Nazareth Hospital, where he died. His sister, Dream Faison, said she viewed his body at the hospital Saturday, but has not been told by prison officials what happened to her brother.

“Somebody had to do that,” she said. “I’m not putting anything past anyone.”

“I was alone and in shock at that point,” she said of viewing her brother’s body. She said her Brooklyn-born brother was a former boxer and postal worker. She said he struggled with bipolar disorder but devoted himself to the practice of yoga and was planning to launch a business as a personal trainer.

She was stunned to learn that he had been housed with an inmate accused of a sexual offense against another inmate days earlier. “If an inmate assaulted another inmate, why didn’t you put him by himself in isolation?” she asked. “Why would you put him in a cell with someone else?”

A spokesperson for Mayor Jim Kenney’s office said the Medical Examiner’s Office has not completed its report that would determine the cause and manner of death.

Shawn Hawes, a prisons spokesperson, declined to comment on the assault on Faison.

“As far as the people who are involved in either of the incidents, they are under investigation at this time, so there’s not a lot I can comment on at this time,” Hawes said.

A call to Eric Hill, business manager for the prison guards union, seeking comment, was not returned.

Dream Faison said that after not hearing from her brother for two days, on Wednesday, she contacted police, who did a wellness check at the rooming house where he lived in the 700 block of Cobbs Creek Parkway.

She said she was told he moved out March 20 and learned he had been arrested that day only after he died.

“There are too many complications with this story,” she said.

Faison’s death follows the March 18 death of Rodney Hargrove, who was fatally shot on the grounds of the same prison an hour after being released on bail.

Three other inmates have died in city jails in the last year. In January, an Inquirer analysis found that assaults on staff were up 44% for the first six months of the pandemic lockdown, compared with the average number of incidents reported over the same period for the five previous years. Suicide attempts roughly doubled compared with earlier years.

Staff writers William Bender and Samantha Melamed contributed to this article.