TRENTON – A state grand jury has voted to indict 14 corrections officers, including an East Brunswick man, for allegedly removing inmates from cells “forcibly,” beating some, which left two of the victims severely injured at the Hunterdon County-based Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women, according to the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General.
Grand jurors returned an indictment against all 14 of the accused corrections officers on charges of conspiracy, official misconduct, tampering with public records, and aggravated assault, according to a press release through the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General on Sept. 27.
Eddie Molina, 44, of East Brunswick was one of the 14 corrections officers.
The incidents happened during the overnight hours between Jan. 11-12, 2021, at the facility in Union Township, in Hunterdon County, amid escalating tensions after several incidents of inmates allegedly squirting unknown liquids through their cell doors, striking officers, according to investigators.
The alleged incidents had led Gov. Phil Murphy to announce his intention to close the prison for women in June 2021. Lowenstein Sandler LLP, a national law firm, prepared an investigative report on the incidents.
Cells belonging to inmates suspected of being involved in those alleged “splashing” incidents were targeted, in an action the New Jersey Department of Corrections (DOC) refers to as inmate extraction. According to DOC policy, extraction should be resorted to only after inmates refuse orders to put on handcuffs and leave their cells on their own, or if they pose a threat to themselves or others and refuse to exit a cell.
In this case, prosecutors said, the officers planned to go into the cells and use force regardless of whether any resistance was encountered, and in some instances did not give the targeted inmates an opportunity to comply with orders to put on handcuffs and exit their cells without incident. In other incidents the inmates complied with orders to be handcuffed and yet were extracted by force from their cells anyway, according to the press release.
One inmate was punched almost 30 times by one officer while being extracted by a five-person team, despite no apparent provocation or physical resistance from her, the investigation found. Other officers restrained the victim while the assault was happening, at times grabbing her hair or shoving her. She was taken to a hospital suffering from headaches, nausea, and vomiting, and doctors found she had a concussion, according to the press release.
Another victim, after her extraction despite the fact that she had complied with orders to be handcuffed, was covered with blood and her right eye was swollen shut. She was transported to Hunterdon Medical Center where doctors discovered her skull was broken around her eye. Boot marks were also discovered on her body, according to the press release.
The indictment alleges these officers planned, supervised, participated in, or failed to stop “one or more forced cell extractions on the Restorative Housing Unit tier with the purpose of punishing, intimidating or terrorizing one or more inmates,” according to the press release.
The officers are also accused of facilitating, failing to intervene in, and failing to report the assaults, as is their duty as law enforcement officers. Investigators allege that internal reports generated about the incidents were false or misleading in an attempt to conceal the brutality and what led up to it, according to the press release.
The conspiracy charge carries a sentence of five to 10 years state prison and a fine of $150,000; official misconduct can carry a penalty of five to 10 years state prison with five years parole ineligibility, and a fine of $150,000, while tampering with public records is punishable by three to five years in state prison with two years parole ineligibility and a fine of $15,000.
Aggravated assault with serious bodily injury can carry a sentence of five to 10 years state prison, with a mandate to serve 85% of the sentence, plus a fine of $150,000, according to the press release.