TRENTON, N.J. — The state of New Jersey has charged a fourth correctional officer for alleged abuses at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility in Hunterdon County, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced Tuesday.
Sgt. Matthew D. Faschan, a 33-year-old suspended correctional police officer, was charged with two counts of second-degree official misconduct and one count of third-degree tampering with public records or information.
“As I stated earlier this month, we will follow the evidence in this case wherever it leads and we will not rest until all of those responsible for these brutal attacks — at any level of the prison’s hierarchy — are held accountable,” said Grewal in a statement. “That includes all those involved in planning and covering up these horrific acts.”
According to an investigation, between approximately 10:30 p.m. on Jan. 11 and 1:15 a.m. on Jan. 12, a number of DOC officers and supervisors assigned to the facility conducted forced cell extractions of inmates located in the Restorative Housing Unit (RHU) complex. Faschan was one of the correctional police officers involved in the forced cell extractions. He was assigned to video record the inmate cell extractions.
A victim complaint alleged that Faschan purposely didn’t record her extraction, in which she was “repeatedly struck with [the officers’] fists, although [the victim] was handcuffed and not resisting, in violation of clearly established DOC policies.”
A second victim, who Faschan was also assigned to, alleged that officers pepper sprayed her and that she was not given time to comply following the spraying, as is required by the DOC. Rather, the officers immediately entered her cell and forced her out.
During the extraction, Officer Luis Garcia — himself previously charged by the state — struck the victim in the face with a closed fist approximately 28 times, despite the victim not resisting. The victim’s injuries included a concussion.
Faschan is accused of not intervening to stop his fellow officers’ improper use of force, all in violation of clearly established DOC polices that only allow for the “objectively reasonable and necessary use of force.” Despite his role as a recording sergeant of the extraction team, his presence in the victim’s cell, and his observation of the extraction, it is also alleged that Faschan failed to report the unauthorized use of force against an inmate, who was not resisting, also in violation of clearly established DOC polices.
You can read the charges against the other three officers here.
The facility, the only women’s prison in the Garden State, has been the subject of political controversy for some time.
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said prosecutors found that the guards tried to cover up the attack at the Mahan Correctional Facility for Women by filing false reports. He said the attack happened early Jan. 11 and involved about two dozen guards.
“Edna Mahan has a long, ugly history— one that has justifiably attracted scrutiny from county, state, and federal investigators,” said Attorney General Grewal.
“That’s why we must do more than simply figure out what went wrong on Jan. 11. We must hold the responsible parties accountable, and we must fix the systemic failures that made this incident possible. I’m committed to using the full resources of my office and, with the assistance of the Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office, we will tackle this problem head on.”
Dozens of corrections officers at the Clinton prison — New Jersey’s only women’s prison — were placed on paid leave last month, following allegations that staff brutally beat and sexually assaulted inmates there.
One woman, Ajila Nelson, told NJ.com that officers on Jan. 11 handcuffed her and others, before punching, kicking, stripping and dragging her to a shower, after which she said an unidentified male officer got on top of her and groped and sexually assaulted her.
A transgender woman incarcerated at the facility was beaten by a group of officers and three officers stomped on her head, her mother, Trimeka Rollins, told the newspaper. Her daughter’s knee was so badly damaged that she’s now using a wheelchair, Rollins said.
The three officers, Correctional Police Officer Luis Garcia, Sgt. Amir Bethea and Sgt. Anthony Valvano, face charges of official misconduct and tampering with public records or information. Garcia is also charged with aggravated assault.
Gov. Phil Murphy named former state comptroller Matt Boxer as an independent investigator into the allegations.
Murphy, who described the officers’ actions as abhorrent and a violation of public trust in a statement Thursday, continued to insist the state would hold anyone responsible to account.
“I understand from the attorney general’s announcement that the criminal investigation is ongoing, and I am confident that anyone who violated the law will be held accountable. Beyond the criminal investigation, we must have a full accounting of how this incident was able to happen so that we can put in place necessary reforms and safeguards. I am thankful to former State Comptroller Matt Boxer for taking on this crucial task.”
Despite the hiring of an outside firm and Murphy’s calls for an independent investigation, there has been bipartisan fervor in Trenton to oust Department of Corrections Commissioner Marcus Hicks. The Democrat-controlled state senate unanimously passed a resolution calling for Hicks to resign or for Gov. Murphy to fire him this past Friday.
For their part, the department hired The Moss Group to “provide technical support in operational practice, policy development and implementation of identified solutions related to Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women,” the state announced Friday. The state is also actively recruiting an assistant commissioner to handle women’s services within the state prison system.
Democratic State Sen. Dawn Addiego, who co-sponsored the resolution calling for Hicks to resign or be removed, said this move makes no difference.
“The hiring of a consulting firm does nothing to help the women who have already been abused,” Addiego said through a spokesperson. “His first priority should be ensuring their safety which is why we have asked repeatedly that they be moved to a different facility until Edna Mahan can be reformed.”
The state’s Republican caucus also reiterated their wishes to see Hicks be fired or resign.
“Our caucus believes the very first thing Gov. Murphy should do is fire NJDOC Commissioner Marcus Hicks,” said New Jersey Senate Republican communications director Brad Schnure. “Unfortunately, this is another example of the governor being completely unwilling to hold anyone on his team accountable for the failures that have occurred on their watch.”
The state’s DOC, in a statement to PIX11 News, believe the Moss Group’s implementation of these reforms are necessary now and that removal of Commissioner Hicks would “only serve to stall this process.”
“Commissioner Hicks is committed to ensuring the safety of all those in the state’s custody and has several measures in place specifically for the women of Edna Correctional Facility for Women including increased reporting mechanisms, female leadership, and camera surveillance, to name a few,” the DOC’s sopkesperson added.