TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A New Jersey grand jury has indicted 14 corrections officers on charges stemming from what authorities said was a brutal attack in 2021 on inmates at the state’s only prison for women.
The grand jury handed up the indictments after a more than yearlong investigation into the events at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women, in the community of Clinton, Acting Attorney General Matt Platkin’s office said late Tuesday.
Attorneys for the guards charged have said previously they planned to fight the allegations in court. The charges include charges conspiracy, official misconduct, tampering with public records and aggravated assault, Platkin said.
The indictments are the latest development in a state criminal probe that resulted in significant fallout, including the departure of the state’s corrections commissioner and Gov. Phil Murphy’s declaration that he will close the prison.
A picture of what happened in January 2021 at the prison has emerged, based on accounts from law enforcement, videos released by authorities showing extractions of prisoners from their cells, and a report commissioned by the governor.
One video clip, for example, showed five prison guards wearing helmets and chest, back and shoulder armor filing into the cell of a woman at the prison and striking and punching the inmate in the head. “Stop punching me in my face!” the woman calls out.
A report commissioned by Murphy, a Democrat, said in June that that guards used excessive force on inmates and filed false reports after removing inmates from their cells. The staff also failed to bar male guards from viewing female inmates during strip searches, in violation of policy.
It also shed light on what led up to the attack and how it unfolded, saying that in the days before the attack, there was “a coordinated effort” by some inmates to “splash” prison guards. That’s a term referring to throwing liquids, including urine and feces, at them. The report notes that the head of the prison guards’ labor union said officers had been upset, and that things were at a “boiling point.”
The episode led Murphy to declare he will close the prison, although a timeline for that has not been announced.
It also resulted in lawmakers calling for the ouster of Corrections Commissioner Marcus Hicks, who resigned in June.
The U.S. Justice Department also entered into a consent agreement with the state stemming from other longstanding troubles at the prison, namely that officials there did not protect inmates’ constitutional rights by failing to protect them from sexual abuse. The August agreement resulted in a federal monitor at the prison.
Platkin’s predecessor said the attorney general’s office would hold “everyone who was involved in January’s brutal assaults” accountable.