Attorney general releases video of violent prison ‘extractions’

Explicit recordings document actions inside women’s prison that led to charges against 10 officers

One woman is dragged along the floor. One is punched in the face multiple times. A woman with blood on her shirt cries that she can’t see. Corrections officers release streams of pepper spray through slots into cells. One officer cuts the clothes off a woman.

These are scenes from 90 minutes of video depicting cell extractions on Jan. 11 at New Jersey’s only women’s prison that left several people seriously injured, led to the arrest so far of 10 officers and contributed to the corrections commissioner’s resignation.

The New Jersey Attorney General’s office on Wednesday released 10 videos showing some of what happened in the overnight extractions.

The office had planned to make the videos public earlier, but a judge prevented their release at the request of Jose Irizarry, one of the officers charged. The union representing corrections officers had also filed a suit a month ago seeking to prevent the release of the videos. On Wednesday, the state Supreme Court denied Irizarry’s request, paving the way for the attorney general’s office to make them public.

In a news release, the office stated the videos were being released in accordance with use-of-force transparency polices Attorney General Gurbir Grewal put in place in 2019 and in response to several open public records requests.

Criminal complaints

The videos of the extractions of five different women show what has already been described by Grewal in the written criminal complaints against each officer and in the independent report on the incidents at the Edna Mahan Women’s Correctional Facility released in early June. That report prompted Gov. Phil Murphy to announce his intention to close the 108-year-old women’s prison, with a timeline for the closure and a replacement for the facility still to be determined. A day after the release of that report, Marcus Hicks tendered his resignation as corrections commissioner.

Five of the videos were recorded by corrections officers using hand-held cameras, while the others were from stationary cameras in the corridors of the administrative segregation unit where the overnight extractions took place. While some officers at Mahan now have body-worn cameras, none were in use that day.

The hand-held videos include audio but it is often difficult to see exactly what is happening because the videographer is not inside the cell which is often dark or there are others standing in the camera’s way.

Some of the videos depict graphic scenes of violence and the women are heard crying out  in pain.

The videos show groups of five or more corrections officers in riot gear wearing helmets and some with shields. Officers are often heard yelling, “Stop resisting,” but it is unclear if or how an inmate is resisting because of the camera angles and obstructions. Officers are shown spraying pepper spray into cells at least three times.

One video appears to show a woman being punched multiple times in her cell while she is held against the wall. Another shows a woman being dragged along the floor at one point and later having her clothes cut off by a guard. Another shows an inmate escorted to a medical office, then to the infirmary, where she is held for a time in a cell, blood visible on her shirt and pants.

“Why would you punch me in my eye?” she says. “Nurse, I’ve got a bad headache. I can’t even see. I didn’t do anything wrong.” She asks for tissues but is ignored by the officers surrounding her.

AG said improper use of force

All the images comport with law enforcement accounts of the incidents, which Grewal has characterized as improper use of force by corrections officers.

Grewal said extraction teams set out to remove women from their cells around midnight. One woman complied and was handcuffed but was still punched, leading to a fractured eye socket. Another did not comply and was pepper-sprayed, pinned against the wall and punched 28 times in and around her face, leaving her with facial injuries and a concussion. Another said she was punched and kicked.

The first three arrests of corrections officers came Feb. 4, with seven more in the following weeks. Grewal has said more than two dozen officers at Mahan were involved in the extractions — all 22 inmates of the administrative segregation unit were removed from their cells that night. Some 30 guards and other staff, including the supervisor who allegedly approved the action, were placed on administrative leave.

According to the independent report by former state comptroller Matthew Boxer, the actions that night appeared to have been the result of officers trying to “send a message that they’re in charge.” They had been angry and frustrated that inmates had been repeatedly tossing bodily fluids out of their cells and, at times, onto the officers, according to the report.

Civil rights violations

Mahan has also been the site of decades of sexual assaults on inmates by officers, with the state still awaiting final approval of a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice over civil rights violations there. The settlement is expected soon and is likely to include the appointment of a federal monitor for the facility.

Following news of the assaults, two Assembly committees held a daylong hearing and lawmakers have put forth a number of bills meant to improve conditions at Mahan and other prisons. Some of those passed quickly through the Legislature and await Murphy’s signature.

Bonnie Kerness of the American Friends Service Committee said the state needs to do much more to prevent these kinds of attacks on prisoners and improve conditions within the state’s correctional facilities.

“What is even worse than watching this horror is the clear understanding that this is going on right now,” she said. “The cruelty of the culture permeates. Shame on us!”

All of the videos posted by the attorney general’s office are available here: https://njoag.app.box.com/s/cjzgkthphu7lpexl8sb4gmzmuu2irsv3

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