Victim screamed in pain: 6 officers charged at NJ youth prison
TRENTON – Six correctional police officers, including a sergeant, face criminal charges for an incident over two years ago in which force was unjustifiably used against an inmate at the Garden State Youth Correctional Facility in Chesterfield Township.
Sgt. Michael Emmert faces two counts of aggravated assault in connection with the forced cell extraction conducted shortly after midnight on April 8, 2020.
Emmert and five senior correctional officers face one count of tampering with public records or information.
The officers were charged by complaint-summons on May 25, nine days ago, and acting Attorney General Matthew Platkin announced the charges Friday.
“Correctional police officers are entrusted with great authority over the inmates in their custody, and when they abuse that power, they must be held accountable,” Platkin said.
“We must hold correctional officers to the highest standards and any form of abuse will not be tolerated,” said Corrections Commissioner Victoria Kuhn. “Individuals within the custody of the New Jersey Department of Corrections deserve to be treated with decency and dignity.”
In addition to Emmert, 37, of Toms River, the officers charged were:
Michael Ambrozaitis, 58, of Southampton;
Michael Gaines, 56, of Willingboro;
Raymond Quinones, 43, of Beachwood;
Mark Sadlowski Jr., 44, of Sewell;
Christopher Toth, 37, of New Egypt.
Forced cell extraction
Prosecutors say that at around 12:05 a.m. on April 8, 2020, the six defendants participated in a forced cell extraction of an inmate at the Garden State Youth Correctional Facility in Township and filed false reports to deceive others in the DOC into believing that the use of force was justified.
They say that during an initial approach with Toth and one other officer, Emmert pepper-sprayed the inmate without giving him any opportunity to comply, despite the victim offering to be handcuffed.
Emmert allegedly sprayed him a second time when the other defendants re-approached the cell while fully suited and forcibly removed him.
Victim screamed in pain
In contradiction to video and photographic evidence, Emmert said in a preliminary incident report that the inmate refused to be handcuffed, blocked a food port and attempted to “mule kick” a shield. The other officers said in special custody reports that the victim was combative and refused to comply.
DOC policy permits use of force that is objectively necessary and reasonable; it requires that an inmate be given an opportunity to comply before a forced cell extraction proceeds.
The complaints filed against the officers say the victim screamed in pain and left his cell covered in blood, was given an inhaler and oxygen in the infirmary and was treated for cuts on his face.
'Punished for doing what they are trained to do'
William Sullivan, president of PBA Local 105, said the correctional police officers acted professionally "and did exactly what was required of them per policy."
"This investigation took over two years," Sullivan said. "They worked every day and had not one negative interaction at work since this alleged incident. They worked every day through a global pandemic. One of the officers received awards for saving someone’s life off duty."
Sullivan said the officers followed lawful orders to conduct a cell extraction that has been approved by administrators and supervised by a sergeant. He said he expects the officers will be fully vindicated and back to work after their day in court.
"They conducted a textbook cell extraction and are being punished for doing what they are trained to do," Sullivan said. "We already have a recruiting and retention issue. These false allegations only make the issue worse.
"We come to work every day and deal with society’s worst. We get stuck working mandatory 16-hour shifts daily. When everyone worked from home we couldn’t. We do our jobs and we get punished," he said. ."It’s no surprise no one wants to take this job. When will these witch hunts end? When will we get rewarded and praised for what we do and not punished?"
The charges are the result of an ongoing joint investigation by the Department of Corrections’ Special Investigations Division and the Attorney General’s Office of Public Integrity and Accountability. It was the result of information obtained and developed by the DOC SID.
“When corrections officers abuse their authority, as alleged here, we will ensure that they are fully investigated and prosecuted,” said Thomas Eicher, OPIA’s executive director Thomas Eicher.
Emmert is on the executive board of the New Jersey Law Enforcement Supervisors Association, serving as the union’s secretary.