14 officers indicted after inmates beaten at NJ women’s prison
TRENTON – Fourteen correctional police officers have been indicted in connection with the early 2021 incident at New Jersey’s women’s prison in which two inmates were severely injured in beatings while being forcibly removed from their cells.
The 14 officers, including the then-leader at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Union Township in Hunterdon County, all of whom have been suspended, were indicted Tuesday.
Criminal charges: 'Terrorizing inmates'
The indictment alleges the 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.”
The charges include conspiracy, official misconduct and aggravated assault, which each carry potential sentences of five to 10 years in prison and fines of $150,000. The assault charge includes a mandate to serve 85% of the sentence before parole eligibility.
They were also charged with tampering with public records, which is punishable by three to five years in state prison with two years parole ineligibility and a fine of $15,000. That charge relates to misleading or false internal reports intended to conceal what took place.
Prosecutors said the following defendants were indicted
• Sean St. Paul, 56, of Newark, who was the prison’s associate administrator
• Ryan Valentin, 44, of Bloomfield, a major in the Department of Corrections
• Eddie Molina, 44, of East Brunswick, a lieutenant
• Andraia Bridges, 45, of North Plainfield, a sergeant
• Anthony J. Valvano, 40, of Bound Brook, a sergeant
• Brandon Burgos, 22, of Roseland, a, a senior correctional officer
• Luis A. Garcia, 25, of Nutley, a correctional officer
• Courey James, 33, of East Piscataway, a senior correctional officer
• Desiree Lewis, 33, of Elizabeth, a senior officer
• Gustavo Sarmiento, 29, of Maywood, a senior correctional officer
• Marika Sprow, 33, of West Orange, a senior officer
• Tara Wallace, 37, of Somerset, a senior correctional officer
Sexual and physical abuse at prison
Edna Mahan has had a history of issues, including a report by the Justice Department on its civil rights and sexual and physical abuse problems, and is now due to be closed. The state has not yet determined where it might build a replacement or otherwise house the inmates.
Tensions at Edna Mahan were running high on Jan. 11, 2021, after several incidents in which inmates squirted unknown liquids on officers through their cell doors. Cells belonging to inmates suspected in those “splashing” incidents were targeted in the late-night inmate extraction.
Such extractions are supposed to be a final resort if inmates refuse to be handcuffed and leave their cells or if they pose a threat. Prosecutors say the officers had their minds made up and forcibly removed inmates who were complying or weren’t given a chance to comply.
Investigators say one inmate who wasn’t resisting was punched almost 30 times by one officer, while others restrained her. Another who had complied to be handcuffed suffered a broken skull around her eye.