NJ women’s prison suspends 30 after ‘horrific reports’ of attack
Gov. Phil Murphy has ordered an independent investigation at the state's troubled prison for women after 30 employees were recently suspended following reports of inmates being severely beaten.
The exact details about what happened during the Jan. 11 incident first reported by NJ.com have not been disclosed by the state Attorney General's Office of Public Integrity and Accountability, which is is investigating with the Hunterdon County Prosecutor's Office.
The union representing the correctional police officers said the incident might have been sparked by inmates throwing feces on officers.
"As far as I know several inmates splashed officers with fecal matter. A forced cell extraction was authorized. There were claims made after the extraction of excessive force," William Sullivan, president of NJ PBA Local 105 told New Jersey 101.5.
The prison in Clinton Township suspended 20 officers, nine supervisors and Associate Administrator Sean St. Paul, all with pay, according to Sullivan.
Relatives of inmates told NJ.com that a transgender woman was beaten so badly that she cannot walk while another has a broken eye socket and one inmate was handcuffed before being assaulted, they told NJ.com.
One inmate, Ajila Nelson, told NJ.com that she was punched, groped and was sexually penetrated by an officer using his fingers. She said officers called it a "revenge attack"
Sullivan said that despite a request to expedite the investigation because of staffing concerns, correctional police officers had not been interviewed as of Wednesday morning.
"They haven't even made accusations yet against specific staff members. Everybody involved in the incident was put on leave until it was investigated," Sullivan said.
"I support a full investigation if everything is done correctly. Hopefully they're all cleared and back to work and if anything was done incorrectly that's on the individual who may or may not have done something. " Sullivan said. "It's a big bulk of officers who work third shift. The other officers have to work doubles until staffing levels can be returned. Hopefully they investigate swiftly and sort it out."
Murphy issued a statement Wednesday afternoon and said he was "sickened by the horrific reports of what happened at Edna Mahan on January 11th."
He ordered an independent investigation led by former State Comptroller Matt Boxer.
Murphy isaid he supported the steps taken by Hicks but said more action is needed.
"Based on those findings, which I expect to receive in an expedited fashion, any individual who acted improperly will be held fully accountable. These types of incidents will never be tolerated," Murphy wrote.
State Sens. Loretta Weinberg and Linda Greenstein were joined by Assemblywomen Yvonne Lopez, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Eliana Pintor Marin and Pamela Lampitt in a letter calling for Murphy to put Hicks and Office of the Corrections Ombudsman Dan DiBenedetti on administrative leave.
They also asked the governor to invoke the Dignity Act "to provide critical safeguards to inmates at Edna Mahan." The act requires the ombudsman to act as an advocate for inmates and their family.
Anyone with information relevant to the most recent incident is encouraged to call the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability at 844-OPIA-TIPS.