Lawsuit: NJ prison guards kicked, punched transgender woman
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey prison guards punched and kicked a transgender woman during an attack on inmates in January and struck her so forcefully about a month later that she had to be hospitalized, according to a lawsuit filed Friday in state Superior Court.
The woman, an inmate at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women, is seeking to be transferred out of the prison, along with damages. Rae Rollins’ lawsuit names the state Department of Corrections, its commissioner, Marcus Hicks, as well as administrators and guards at the prison in Hunterdon County.
The Law Division of the attorney general’s office, which typically represents state departments and officials in lawsuits, declined to comment on the complaint.
Many of the details about the Jan. 11 and 12 attack have become public because Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has charged eight prison guards in the matter.
According to the attorney general, about two dozen guards engaged in “forced cell extractions” of at least six inmates for unknown reasons. The extractions left one unidentified victim with a broken bone in her skull near her eye. Another victim was punched about 28 times and pepper sprayed, he as said.
Rollins’ complaint includes new specifics, including that Rollins’ cell had been “trashed” and other inmates could be “heard screaming and crying” after guards entered cells to remove inmates. The complaint says she was punched and kicked after she had been handcuffed.
The lawsuit also contains new details about Feb. 18, weeks after some guards had been criminally charged in the January incident.
Rollins had earlier told NJ.com that she was thrown into a wall and hospitalized with a concussion. The lawsuit says that happened after she asked that an officer who had “repeatedly antagonized her” not be involved in her transport.
The prison has a reputation for abuse of prisoners, detailed in a 2020 Justice Department report, and alluded to by Grewal when he unveiled criminal charges in February and said it had an “ugly history.”
The lawsuit centered this reputation in the complaint.
“The undisputed toxic culture at EMCFW of treating the incarcerated population as less than human, the large scale attack on multiple incarcerated individuals on January 11, 2021, and the continuing course of verbal abuse, physical abuse, and relation against Plaintiff constitute a violation of her constitutional right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment,” the lawsuit read.
Friday’s filing amounts to the latest in the ongoing fallout since January. In addition to criminal charges against eight guards, Grewal has said the investigation is continuing, lawmakers have sought Hicks’ ouster and Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy has hired an outside counsel to investigate what happened. The state Assembly is preparing to hold a hearing where Hicks is set to testify about the matter next month.
Hicks’ spokesperson has said he’s worked to reform Edna Mahan, including hiring female administrators and installing more surveillance cameras, among other changes.