AG: 3 guards accused in attack, cover-up at Edna Mahan women's prison
The New Jersey attorney general said Thursday that three guards at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women are facing misconduct charges stemming from a violent attack on at least six inmates at the prison.
The charges come after nearly every Democrat in the state Legislature and many Republicans have demanded that Corrections Commissioner Marcus Hicks be fired. It is the latest chapter in years of allegations of abuse at the rural Hunterdon County prison.
“There’s a long and ugly history at Edna Mahan,” said Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.
Three weeks ago, at least six inmates at the correctional facility reported being assaulted by correctional police officers. Grewal said that prosecutors found that the guards tried to cover up the attack by filing false reports. He said that the attack happened early on Jan. 11 and involved about two dozen guards.
“We are going to hold people accountable regardless of where they are in the chain of command,” Grewal said.
Authorities say that during a forced cell extraction by a Department of Corrections team that began late on the night of Jan. 11, investigators allege Officer Luis Garcia punched a female inmate 28 times, even as she was complying with officers and had her hands up against the cell wall.
Sgt. Amir Bethea, who was supposed to be supervising Garcia and others, did not report the excessive use of force, according to Grewal.
Authorities also said that Sgt. Anthony Valvano lied about a different inmate and falsely said that she was banging her head against the cell door, when it was correctional officers who broke her eye socket.
“It’s another bad day for New Jersey and I don’t’ think it had to be this way,” says Jack Ciattarelli, the Republican candidate for governor.
Ciattarelli says that the Murphy administration should have acted after a scathing report from the Department of Justice last April, which said that the rights of inmates were being violated.
“Prisoners or no prisoners, people are entitled to their rights and these people, their rights were violated,” Ciattarelli says.
Ciattarelli and numerous Democrats have demanded Murphy fire Hicks. But the governor has refused to do so and ordered an independent investigation
Murphy said in a statement, “Any abuse of power is abhorrent and violates the public trust, and can never be tolerated or excused…Beyond the criminal investigation, we must have a full accounting of how this incident was able to happen so that we can put in place necessary reforms and safeguards.”
The Department of Corrections says that it has a zero-tolerance policy for abuse. Grewal said that this is only the first wave of charges against the offices involved and demanded that those who know of wrongdoings come forward.
Anyone who might have additional information about misconduct at the prison should call 1-844-OPIA-TIPS.
The officers charged face between three and 10 years in prison if convicted.
The Associated Press wire services contributed to this report.