Three corrections officers charged in January attack at N.J. women’s prison

The Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Hunterdon County, New Jersey. (NJ Spotlight)

The Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Hunterdon County, New Jersey. (NJ Spotlight)

New Jersey prosecutors have filed charges against three correctional police officers for beating female prisoners the night of Jan. 11 at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women.

Officials said the late-night attacks at the prison in Hunterdon County left the victims with scratches, concussions, and at least one orbital fracture.

According to Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, corrections officers had organized into “extraction teams” to remove prisoners from their cells.

Per state policy, prisoners are supposed to be given the chance to leave their cells freely, and if they don’t, corrections officers are only permitted to use as much force as is necessary to remove them. That was not what happened, Grewal said during a Thursday afternoon virtual press conference to announce the charges.

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One woman put her hands through the food port in her cell door and was hand-cuffed, but officers still beat her. A second woman did not exit her cell voluntarily, but prosecutors allege that Correctional Police Officer Luis A. Garcia punched her 28 times with a closed fist around the head while she was pushed up against the wall, not giving her a chance to comply with his orders.

Garcia was charged with aggravated assault, official misconduct, and tampering with public records.

Grewal said the investigation was hampered by corrections officers who misled investigators during their inquiry over the past several weeks. Two supervisors — Sgt. Amir Bethea and Sgt. Anthony Valvano — were charged with official misconduct and tampering with public records.

State officials did not say what led up to the beatings on Jan. 11 but noted that further criminal charges would provide more detail into what happened. None of the victims have been identified by authorities, but some have spoken out about the incident to NJ Advance Media.

Edna Mahan has long faced scrutiny for allegations of abuse within its walls. A Department of Justice report released last year found that the prison failed to protect female prisoners and likely violated their constitutional rights.

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“All of our residents have a right to be treated with basic decency, and all of our officers have an obligation to avoid force except when absolutely necessary,” Grewal said.

“Those principles don’t just apply in our streets and our schools but also in our prisons,” he added.

Grewal said the investigation was ongoing, and that prosecutors would announce charges against additional defendants and “potentially” new charges against the three current defendants.

Gov. Phil Murphy previously said he was sickened by these new allegations of assault at the prison and ordered an independent investigation of what occurred from the waning hours of Jan. 11 into the early morning of Jan. 12.

People convicted of official misconduct in New Jersey face a mandatory five-year prison sentence.

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