It’s a rare look inside a troubled prison that has avoided scrutiny for decades.
In the aftermath of a night of violence at the Edna Mahan Correctional Center for Women in January, victims described being brutalized by prison officers dressed in riot gear.
A woman suffered a concussion after being struck repeatedly on the head. Another suffered a fractured right orbital bone, while a third woman claimed to have broken her arm and been sexually assaulted during violent cell extractions. Three other people also claimed to have been assaulted.
The clash led to the criminal charges of 10 officers, the resignation of the Commissioner of Corrections and Governor Phil Murphy announcing his intention to close the troubled prison.
But what happened that night has so far only been documented by first-hand testimony from prisoners, indictment documents against the officers, and a 73-page independent report by Matthew Boxer, a former state comptroller and federal prosecutor charged with digging into the incident.
Now, for the first time, the state attorney general’s office has released portions of a redacted video from the night that prompted a senior corrections official to tell investigators that the footage was “one of them. most disturbing video series I have ever seen “.
NJ Advance Media reviewed the 90 minutes released Wednesday night. The footage contains scenes of graphic violence and profanity, and prosecutors have blurred the faces of some subjects.
The video begins late on the night of January 11 and lasts until the early hours of January 12.
Tensions had been mounting for weeks in the prison’s restorative housing unit, a special wing for inmates posing a security risk, after women were accused of repeatedly squirting unknown liquids on staff through the cracks in their doors.
A video released Wednesday showed white substance thrown from a cell on the ground.
In response, senior Edna Mahan officials authorized cell extractions to search for contraband items.
The footage shows how these extractions turned into a chaotic scene in which officers in riot gear broke into the cells of several prisoners and used unnecessary force, prosecutors said.
In a video, Sgt. Amir Bethea – with his hat upside down and his mask under his nose – ordered Emmalee Dent to come to his door and hold out his hands to be handcuffed. Dent said she had to use the bathroom.
Moments later, Bethea appeared to fire pepper spray into her cell. A group of officers then rushed forward.
As Dent searched for air due to the effects of the spray, officers could be heard shouting “Stop resisting!” As they begin to assault him. Prosecutors alleged that Officer Luis Garcia hit her about 28 times on the head.
Garcia was charged with aggravated second degree assault, second degree official misconduct, and third degree tampering with public documents. His lawyer had previously said that Garcia “categorically denies these allegations.”
Bethea reported that no one was injured, although Dent was later diagnosed with a concussion.
“It made me sick,” Tawanna Dent, the prisoner’s mother, said after watching the video. ” Impossible to sleep. No matter how many times I’ve heard an account of what happened, it will never compare to the horror of seeing it happen. “
In another video, Ajila Nelson, who says she was sexually assaulted during the extraction, is surrounded by a group of officers. The video doesn’t show her clearly, but you can hear her say, “Why is a man ripping my clothes off?” “
He can also be heard continually asking why a man grabs her breasts.
“They jumped on me!” she screamed at one point.
Nelson’s twin sister, Aisha, said she was hesitant to watch the video but ultimately did.
“Literally my heart was breaking to pieces,” she said.
Public images always omit key details.
According to the Boxer Report, the extractions “were frequently filmed in such a way that it was impossible to see what was going on.”
The extraction of Desiree Dasilva, who suffered an orbital bone fracture, was not filmed at all, according to the report, although a video released on Wednesday shows her speaking with officers following .
“Why would you all want to hit me like that for no reason?” ” she asked. “You were all hitting me, what for? “
A former corrections official told investigators inappropriately filming extractions and telling non-resistant prisoners to “stop resisting” are “tactics sometimes used to avoid detection of excessive force or to justify improper use. of strength, “according to the Boxer report.
Prosecutors alleged that sergeants and lieutenants responsible for ensuring officers followed protocol deliberately helped cover up the brutal beatings and that the videos differed from what the officers wrote in their official reports.
The footage was requested by NJ Advance Media and other news organizations under the state’s Open Public Archives Act, after state attorney general Gurbir Grewal pledged to release an video of the incident.
The release was delayed after one of the indicted officers sued to keep the footage from the public until his trial. The attorney general’s office said it made the decision to release the tapes following a state Supreme Court ruling in their favor on Wednesday.
Images are only a fraction of what exists. Boxer’s report says there are around 20 hours in total, from the portable cameras used by officers to surveillance footage of inside the prison.
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