Two more New Jersey corrections officers have been charged in connection with the beatings of inmates at the state’s only women’s prison, while the public awaits the results of an investigation into the matter and a settlement with federal officials over sexual assaults and the general climate at the facility.
The total number of those the state attorney general’s office says were either involved in or helped cover up the overnight assaults stands at 10 after the new charges on Tuesday. The assaults in January seriously injured two inmates at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women. One woman was punched 28 times and officers used pepper spray and other types of excessive use of force in violation of official policy, according to state investigators.
Charged were Lt. Eddie Molina of East Brunswick and Sgt. Andraia Bridges of North Plainfield.
According to a statement from Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, both were involved in the forced cell extractions that left one woman with a fractured eye socket and another with a concussion. Molina, the supervising officer, was present for one of the extractions. Both were charged with official misconduct for not stopping the assaults. Molina was also charged with tampering with public records or information for allegedly falsely reporting what had occurred in an email to other Department of Corrections officers and employees.
“When we first announced charges in this criminal investigation, I promised that we would follow the evidence wherever it leads and charge everyone responsible for these unjustified, brutal attacks,” Grewal said in the statement. “Our investigation continues to produce results, as these charges demonstrate, and we are far from done.”
Status still unknown for Murphy probe
While the ongoing criminal investigation continues to yield new information, the status of a separate outside inquiry by former state comptroller Matthew Boxer remains unknown three months after Gov. Phil Murphy ordered it. Asked about it by a reporter earlier this week during a coronavirus briefing, Murphy said he had no update to share publicly.
“Obviously when we’ve got news there, we will” report it, Murphy said. “I continue to be appalled by what happened on Jan. 11 and a lot of other noise in and around that institution but no update specifics on that.”
DOC Commissioner Marcus Hicks told lawmakers earlier this month that he expected a settlement between the department and U.S. Department of Justice over civil rights violations at the Hunterdon County facility to be finished soon. But as of Wednesday, there was no public word when that will happen. The DOJ issued a report a year ago that found violations of the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act and sexual violence “were rampant at that facility.”
After the findings of that report, the January assaults and a number of other issues, including questions over the DOC’s responses to the coronavirus pandemic and whether the department is appropriately carrying out recent state laws, Hicks now faces calls to resign or for Murphy to replace him. The state Senate last month passed without opposition a resolution urging Hicks to resign or be removed. A bipartisan resolution in the Assembly seeks to impeach the commissioner.
Hicks appeared before a joint Assembly committee earlier this month to discuss the January incident and conditions in general at Mahan. The eight-hour hearing led to the announcement that the state’s corrections ombudsman would resign this summer, but Hicks defended his administration as trying to change the culture in the state’s only women’s prison. Some lawmakers continue to call for him to be replaced. After initially voicing support for Hicks, Murphy more recently has been silent about the commissioner.