Transgender prisoner at NJ women’s facility files suit against DOC alleging assault

New Jersey

New Jersey Department of Corrections Commissioner Marcus Hicks (Photo: NJ DOC)

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TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey prison guards punched and kicked a transgender woman during an attack on inmates in January and struck her so forcefully about a month later that she had to be hospitalized.

That’s according to a lawsuit filed Friday in state Superior Court.

The woman is seeking to be transferred out of Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women, along with damages.

Rae Rollins’ lawsuit names the state Department of Corrections, its commissioner, Marcus Hicks, as well as administrators and guards at the prison in Hunterdon County.

The Law Division of the attorney general’s office declined to comment on the complaint to the Associated Press.

Another four correction officers have been charged this week with assault and misconduct by New Jersey’s attorney general for their actions in a January cell extraction at Edna Mahan facility, bringing the total number of officers charged to eight.

All of the arrests come from the same incident. According to a state 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.

During the extraction, an officer who was later 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.

Grewal said when the first three officers were charged that prosecutors found that guards tried to cover up an attack at the Mahan Facility by filing false reports.

Three officers were initially charged on Feb. 4; a fourth was charged on Feb. 23.

These charges continue to come in as pressure has mounted on New Jersey Department of Corrections Commissioner Marcus Hicks. Hicks is scheduled to testify at hearings in the state legislature in Trenton on April 8.

Dozens of corrections officers at the Clinton prison — New Jersey’s only women’s prison — were placed on paid leave in January, 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.

The Democrat-led State Senate passed the bipartisan resolution for Hicks to either resign or have Murphy fire him 35-0 in February. The resolution also calledon 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 an outside consulting firm to assist with planned reforms at a Hunterdon County prison where three male guards are charged with misconduct in an attack on female inmates.

The Moss Group has been secured by the state’s DOC 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.”

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin is calling for Hicks to provide answers at the hearing.

“I am extremely disturbed about the continued allegations of abuse at Edna Mahan,” Coughlin said. “A pattern appears to have developed at the facility, which raises the question of whether those supervising the prison are not doing nearly enough to protect its vulnerable inmates. We need answers and we need reform.”

The department of corrections has not yet responded to PIX11 News’ request for comment regarding Hicks’ appearance at the hearings.

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