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DJ Three N.J. Guards Charged With Misconduct in Connection With Attack at Women's Prison

· 02/04/2021 18:07
By Joseph De Avila

Three correctional officers were charged with official misconduct and other offenses in connection with an incident at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in New Jersey, where inmates were removed from cells and beaten and pepper-sprayed.

More than two dozen officers at Edna Mahan women's prison forcibly removed 21 inmates from their cells shortly before midnight on Jan. 11, said New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal on Thursday. One inmate suffered an orbital wall fracture of her right eye from the attack, he said. Another inmate was beat and had a concussion, he said.

"Unfortunately, our investigators were delayed in part by false and misleading reports filed by officers -- officers who attempted to cover up what they had done and the injuries they had caused," Mr. Grewal said.

Sgt. Amir Bethea was charged with two counts of official misconduct and two counts of tampering with public records. Sgt. Anthony Valvano was charged with one count of official misconduct and one count of tampering public records. Law-enforcement officials said Sgts. Bethea and Valvano led teams of officers that violently beat inmates in violation of state law.

The official misconduct charge has a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison. The tampering with public records charges have sentences of three to five years.

Officer Luis Garcia is charged with official misconduct and tampering with public records, as well as second-degree aggravated assault, after allegedly striking a victim more than two dozen times without justification, law-enforcement officials said. He also faces a sentence of five to 10 years in prison for the aggravated assault charge.

Officer Garcia "allegedly struck a victim approximately 28 times with his closed fist even as she was pressed up against the cell wall, her back facing the officers, her arms attempting to cover her face," Mr. Grewal said.

Robert Cannon, an attorney for Officer Garcia, said his client will plead not guilty and will "vigorously defend against these charges." Sgts. Bethea and Valvano couldn't be reached for comment, and it was unclear whether they had hired attorneys.

We "fully support a thorough investigation being conducted regarding the incidents at issue before any judgments are made pertaining to the allegations or the officers charged," said William Sullivan, president of the New Jersey State Policemen's Benevolent Association Local 105, which represents officers at the Edna Mahan facility, located in Clinton, N.J. Some 22 members of the union have been suspended in connection with the incident, he said.

The criminal investigation is ongoing, and the Attorney General's office expects to file additional criminal charges, Mr. Grewal said. His office also plans to publicly release footage from the incident following the completion of initial investigative steps, including more interviews, he said.

Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, said there must be a full accounting of how this incident was allowed to happen so that the state can put in place necessary reforms and safeguards.

"Any abuse of power is abhorrent and violates the public trust, and can never be tolerated or excused," Mr. Murphy said.

Marcus Hicks, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Corrections, said anyone who seeks to inflict harm on incarcerated individuals will be prosecuted.

"There is no place for bad actors amongst our ranks," Mr. Hicks said.

Write to Joseph De Avila at joseph.deavila@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

February 04, 2021 18:07 ET (23:07 GMT)

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