3 correctional officers charged in inmate assaults at New Jersey women's prison

UNION TOWNSHIP, New Jersey (WABC) -- Prison guards in New Jersey are accused of taking half a dozen female inmates and beating them before stripping one of them and dragging her to a shower and sexually assaulting her.

Three suspended correctional police officers are now charged for their alleged roles in an assault on inmates at a prison for women in New Jersey.

The incident happened at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Clinton in the early morning of January 12, 2021.

One inmate was punched 28 times and pepper-sprayed , New Jersey officials said Thursday.

"Edna Mahan has a long, ugly history, one that has justifiably attracted scrutiny from county, state, and federal investigators," Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said. "That's why we must do more than simply figure out what went wrong on January 11. We must hold the responsible parties accountable, and we must fix the systemic failures that made this incident possible. I'm committed to using the full resources of my office and, with the assistance of the Hunterdon County Prosecutor's Office, we will tackle this problem head on."

The charged officers were identified as 23-year-old Luis Garcia, 35-year-old Amir Bethea and 38-year-old Anthony Valvano.

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According to investigators, between approximately 10:30 p.m. on January 11 and 1:15 a.m. on January 12, Department of Correction officers and supervisors conducted forced cell extractions of inmates located in the Restorative Housing Unit (RHU) complex, where 21 inmates were housed.

"We allege that they deployed pepper spray, rushed into the inmates cell and beat several of the victims without justification," Grewal said. "One of the most troubling extractions was led by Sgt. Bethea. During the removal, one of the officers under his supervision, Officer Luis Garcia, allegedly struck a victim 28 times with his closed fist."

Thomas Eicher, Dir. Attorney General's Office of Public Integrity and Accountability, said Bethea and Valvano both tried to cover it up by filing false reports about the incident.

The indictment only involves two victims so far, but investigators say six inmates have come forward. Some suffered concussions and an eye fracture.

Investigators say the assault was not only captured on surveillance video, but some of the officers recorded it on their cellphones.

"We are bringing the charges we have today to sending a strong deterrent message, that's why we're not waiting for all the charges are ready in this case, that's why we're bring them in phases to send a message that we're going to hold everyone accountable," Grewal said.

The complaint against Garcia alleges the following conduct:

During the course of the extractions, Garcia purposely and knowingly attempted to cause serious bodily injury to a victim by using force beyond what was objectively reasonable and necessary in violation of DOC policy.

On Jan. 12, 2021, at approximately 12:07 a.m., a five-person uniformed team performed a forced cell extraction of "Victim 2," who was housed in the RHU. During the extraction, Victim 2 was pepper sprayed seconds before the extraction team entered her cell, at which time Victim 2 is seen standing towards the left side of her cell. Immediately upon entering Victim 2's cell, Garcia punched and struck Victim 2 with a closed fist approximately 28 times in the face area, despite the fact that Victim 2 had her arms up, was attempting to cover her face to protect herself, and was standing pressed up against a cell wall with her back to the officers. DOC policy permits use of force that is objectively necessary and reasonable, and Garcia's use of force against Victim 2 violated DOC policy and resulted in serious bodily injuries to Victim 2, including concussion and facial injuries.

It is alleged that Garcia knowingly submitted a false report regarding the incident, in which he falsely stated that Victim 2 "was throwing punches towards my torso" as he attempted to restrain Victim 2. Video evidence, however, shows that Garcia was punching Victim 2 when she was facing the wall and that she threw no punches at Garcia..

Garcia is charged with second-degree assault, official misconduct and tampering with public records or information.

The complaint against Bethea alleges the following conduct:

On Jan. 12, 2021, at approximately 1:13 a.m., video shows "Victim 1" in her cell in the RHU complex. While in her cell, Victim 1 appears to throw an unknown white liquid substance out of her cell into the hallway of the RHU complex. A short time later, video surveillance shows that Sgt. Bethea and Sgt. Valvano supervised a team of DOC officers who appeared outside Victim 1's cell.

Victim 1 immediately complied with an order to place her hands through the food port of her cell door to be handcuffed. Victim 1 repeatedly asked officers not to harm her prior to their entry into Victim 1's cell. Bethea was present during the extraction of Victim 1 and was supervising the actions of the extraction team along with Sgt. Valvano. He did not give Victim 1 an opportunity to exit her cell voluntarily, despite her submitting to the request that she offer her hands to be handcuffed and restrained. During the subsequent forced extraction, one or more correction officers repeatedly struck Victim 1 with their fists, although Victim 1 was handcuffed. Bethea did not intervene to stop the officers' use of force, which violated DOC policies that only allow for the objectively reasonable and necessary use of force. Victim 1 sustained injuries during the cell extraction, including visible injuries to her right eye, which was later determined to be an orbital wall fracture.

Despite his presence at Victim 1's cell during her extraction, and his observation of the extraction, Bethea failed to report the unauthorized use of force against a restrained inmate, who was not resisting. In a Special Custody Report completed and signed by Bethea, he stated that Victim 1 stated that she wanted to "kill herself." This, despite the fact that no officers called a Code 66 or Code 53, procedures which are required to be implemented when inmates are suicidal or in the event of a medical emergency. Victim 1 denied threatening suicide and other inmates corroborate that she was not threatening suicide, but was asking not to be beaten up.

Bethea also supervised the extraction of Victim 2. Bethea's report of that extraction states that Victim 2 refused all orders to be placed in handcuffs, and that he then deployed pepper spray into the cell of Victim 2, who was not handcuffed. Thereafter, Bethea did not give Victim 2 the time required by DOC directive to comply. DOC officers supervised by Bethea then entered Victim 2's cell to forcibly remove her. During the extraction, Officer Garcia struck Victim 2 in the face with a closed fist numerous times. Despite Victim 2 sustaining visible injuries to her mouth and lip, Bethea failed to disclose Victim 2's injuries in his report as required by DOC directive.

Bethea is charged with two counts of official misconduct and two counts of tampering with public records or information.

The complaint against Valvano alleges the following conduct:

On Jan. 12, 2021, at approximately 1:13 a.m., video shows Victim 1 in her cell in the RHU complex. While in her cell, Victim 1 appears to throw an unknown white liquid substance out of her cell into the hallway of the RHU complex. A short time later, video surveillance shows that Sgt. Valvano and Sgt. Bethea supervised a team of DOC officers who appeared outside Victim 1's cell.

Victim 1 immediately complied with an order to place her hands through the food port of her cell door to be handcuffed. According to inmates, Victim 1 repeatedly asked officers not to harm her prior to their entry into Victim 1's cell. Despite this, a cell extraction was undertaken, and five corrections officers and Valvano entered Victim 1's cell after she was handcuffed and proceeded to forcibly remove her from her cell. Victim 1 was given no opportunity to comply, despite her submitting voluntarily to being handcuffed and restrained. During the forced extraction, one or more correction officers repeatedly struck Victim 1 with their fists, although Victim 1 was handcuffed. Valvano did not intervene to stop the officers' use of force, which violated DOC policies that only allow for the objectively reasonable and necessary use of force. Victim 1 sustained injuries during the cell extraction, including visible injuries to her right eye, which was later determined to be an orbital wall fracture.

Despite his supervision of the extraction team, his presence in Victim 1's cell, and his observation of the extraction, Valvano failed to report the unauthorized use of force against a restrained inmate, who was not resisting. In the Incident Report he completed, Valvano falsely stated Victim 1 was banging her head into the cell door and that her cell door had to be breached to prevent further injuries after she was handcuffed. The surveillance footage shows Victim 1's face through her cell door window, and at no time does she appear to be striking the window, and none of the officers near her cell reacted in a way consistent with her banging her head on the door. No officers called a Code 66 or Code 53, procedures which are required to be implemented when inmates are suicidal or in the event of a medical emergency. Victim 1 denied banging her head against the door or anything else.

Valvano is charged with official misconduct and tampering with public records or information.

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