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2 more guards at NJ women’s prison charged in attack

April 27, 2021 GMT

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Two more New Jersey prison guards have been charged with misconduct stemming from what officials said was a January attack on inmates at the state’s only women’s prison, the state’s attorney general said Tuesday.

Lt. Eddie Molina has been charged with two counts of official misconduct and one count of tampering with public records, and Sgt. Andraia Bridges has been charged with a count of official misconduct, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in a statement.

The charges stem from what Grewal said was a “brutal attack” on inmates at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women. Tuesday’s announcement brings to 10 the number of guards charged. Grewal has said the guards forcibly removed inmates, against policy, and in at least two cases pepper sprayed and punched inmates.

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“Our investigation continues to produce results, as these charges demonstrate, and we are far from done,” he said.

Molina’s attorney declined to comment. Bridges is innocent of the charge, and she acted lawfully by reporting the removal of inmates from their cells, according to her attorney James Pomaco.

The complaint filed against Molina charges that he failed to stop and then report the excessive use of force by other guards. He later sent an email that falsely reported what happened, according to the attorney general.

Early on Jan. 12, Molina was the supervising officer during the removal of a woman identified only as “Victim 2.” She was pepper sprayed and then not given a chance to comply with orders before officers entered her cell, violating state policy, according to Grewal. The victim was forcibly removed from the cell and could be seen in video with injuries on her face, the state says. Molina failed to intervene, according to the complaint against him.

He then sent an email to Corrections Department officials and failed to say that pepper spray was used without giving the woman a chance to comply with orders, that force was used and that she was injured, according to the complaint.

Also early on Jan. 12, Bridges did not stop the use of excessive force by other guards during the removal of a woman identified only as Victim 1, according to the state. The woman was compliant, placed in handcuffs and begged not to be harmed before she was hit in the head multiple times, resulting in a broken bone near her eye, according to Grewal.

Bridges is charged with failing to prevent the unauthorized use of force.

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The January attack has led to calls among lawmakers for the ouster of Corrections Commissioner Marcus Hicks, who has defended his tenure as the state’s top prisons official, saying he’s instituted changes at Edna Mahan, including hiring more women and installing more surveillance cameras.

Hicks, earlier this month, also said that a consent decree was pending with the U.S. Justice Department. Federal authorities wrote a scathing report a year ago concluding that conditions at the prison violated the constitutional rights of the women imprisoned there because of the sexual assault they experienced.

The charges stemming from the January attack haven’t included sexual assault allegations.

Hicks also said earlier this month that the department reached a settlement with inmates settling years of abuse allegations for $21 million.

Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy has decried the attack, but not said more than that. He’s also hired an outside law firm to investigate what happened and report back.

Murphy on Monday said he didn’t have any update on when the investigation, which he announced in January, could be wrapped up.