NJ prison abuse: 2 more correctional officers charged in January incident at Edna Mahan

New Jersey

Photo: NJ Attorney General’s Office

TRENTON, N.J. — Another two correctional officers have been charged with abuses in a January forced cell extraction at New Jersey’s lone women’s prison.

A total of 10 officers have been charged in the incident, which occurred in the late night hours between Jan. 11 and 12, according to Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.

Between approximately 10:30 p.m. on Jan. 11 and 1:15 a.m. on Jan. 12, New Jersey DOC officers and supervisors assigned to the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility in Clinton conducted forced cell extractions of inmates located in the Restorative Housing Unit complex.

Two more involved in those extractions, Lt. Eddie Molina and Sgt. Adraia Bridges, were charged Tuesday.

“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. That is exactly what we are doing,” said Grewal. “Our investigation continues to produce results, as these charges demonstrate, and we are far from done.”

Molina, 42, is accused of failing to prevent and report the excessive use of force and assaultive conduct by other corrections officers committed in his presence. He’s also alleged to have falsely reported to the state department of corrections regarding the forced cell extractions that he knew contained false information. He’s been charged with official misconduct and tampering with public records.

According to the report, he was the supervising officer for a five-person team that performed a forced cell extraction. The victim was pepper sprayed and not given an opportunity to comply before the team made entry into her cell, a violation of DOC policy. Members of the team then used excessive and unreasonable force on the victim resulting in injury, another violation.

The victim is seen in video footage with visible facial injuries and is clearly heard telling the officers about her injuries, according to the report. Molina later sent an email to other DOC officers and employees not revealing that pepper spray was used without an opportunity to comply and not revealing that unnecessary and unreasonable force was used. He also failed to report the victim’s injuries.

Bridges, 44, is also accused of failing to prevent and report the excessive use of force and assaultive conduct by the other correction officers in her presence and is charged with official misconduct. She was involved in the extraction of a different victim and failed to report it. During the extraction, the victim was compliant and begged officers not to harm her, but the officers didn’t listen, extracting her and striking her multiple times, resulting in a fractured orbital bone.

These are the latest arrests in an investigation that has seem the state’s Department of Corrections Commissioner Marcus Hicks come under fire. Edna Mahan has a long history of abusive conduct by officers, with the state settling for just over $20 million with over 20 victims dating back to 2014 earlier in April. These new abuses have only left more controversy at the facility and within state corrections.

“I share in your disgust and disappointment for the incidents of Jan. 11,” Hicks said in his opening statement to state legislators at a hearing on April 8. “Several women were brutally attacked by employees who proactively chose to disregard established protocol and practices that are necessary for proper cell extractions, de-escalation, and searches. These employees violated the trust and safety of those in our care and the faith we put in them as public servants.”

New Jersey Department of Corrections Ombudsman Dan DiBenedetti announced his resignation effective Aug. 1 on April 9 after tense hearings in front of the state assembly’s judiciary and women & children committees just a day before. Several state politicians had called for DiBenedetti’s resignation after the hearings, in which he admitted to not having been to Edna Mahan Correctional Facility in over a year and could not name a policy proposal he had come up with to fix the problems.

The commissioner, who has faced calls for either his firing or resignation from every member of the New Jersey Senate and Assembly, said that he finally has the ability to make what he says are real changes to address the issues going on at the prison.

“Together with my team, and input from stakeholders, advocates and the legislature, we’ve made considerable strides to implement creative and sustainable solutions benefitting the incarcerated population and increased transparency around our efforts, positioning New Jersey as a leader in the corrections space,” he said.

Hicks also committed to further increasing female leadership when it comes to both the department and specifically at Edna Mahan, and increased policies that follow the mandates of the Prison Rape Enforcement Act (PREA), a law designed to protect inmates from sexual abuse, calling it a “plague” within the department. In addition to the PREA enhancements, the Safe Taskforce established child-friendly visit and play areas to foster positive child-parent bonding, expanded visiting hours, and offered increased education and counseling modules focused on activity and nutrition, medical and mental wellness.

He also claimed that the department was in compliance with all legislative policies mandated in recent years.

As far as security at Edna Mahan goes, Hicks reiterated the department’s commitment to a new body-worn camera pilot program, as well as adding staff to the second shift, more site visits and tours, establishment of a Use of Force committee and updating the Hunterdon County prison’s camera system.

Hicks claimed to be communicating in good faith and asked for the same in return from the legislature.

The Democrat-led State Senate passed a bipartisan resolution for Hicks to either resign or have New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy fire him 35-0 in February. The resolution also called on Murphy to transfer inmates to a safe facility and demands the Department of Corrections comply with the recommendations of the US Department of Justice which were issued more than six months ago.

Gov. Phil Murphy has stood by Hicks for the time being and 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, has 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.”

Hicks, rather than resign, announced the hiring of the aforementioned Moss Group to assist with planned reforms. The firm’s goal is to “provide technical support in operational practice, policy development and implementation of identified solutions related to Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women.” The state is also actively recruiting an assistant commissioner to handle women’s services within the state prison system.

The state’s DOC, in a statement to PIX11 News back in February, 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.”

The next day, however, DiBenedetti had resigned and lawmakers were still calling for Hicks’ removal.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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