TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said Friday he has named a former state comptroller as an independent investigator into allegations that inmates in a state women’s prison were beaten and sexually assaulted by corrections officers, adding that a criminal investigation is underway.
Murphy, a Democrat, said during an unrelated news conference he ordered Matt Boxer to conduct a probe into the allegations of violence by officers at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Clinton.
The probe stems from reports that more than two dozen corrections officers have been placed on paid leave after inmates came forward to say they were punched, kicked, groped and sexually assaulted, apparently in retaliation for complaining about guards’ behaviour.
Murphy didn’t give any detail about the attacks reported by inmates, including on a transgender woman whose mother told NJ.com she had her head stomped on.
Another woman, Ajila Nelson, told NJ.com that officers prison handcuffed her and others, before punching, kicking, stripping and dragging her to a shower, after which she says an unidentified male officer got on top of her and groped and sexually assaulted her.
“I’m outraged by what happened,” Murphy said. “I’m sick to my stomach but there are ongoing both criminal and now independent investigations which I’ve ordered.”
He added: “We need to understand exactly what happened.”
The allegations led lawmakers on Thursday to call for investigations and the firing of the state’s top correctional official. Murphy has declined to relieve Corrections Commissioner Marcus Hicks.
The governor said on Friday that the top two officials at the prison have been replaced since the incidents on Jan. 11. He said one official retired and the other has been placed on administrative leave.
It’s not the first time allegations have been raised at the prison, which has 395 inmates.
In April, a U.S. Justice Department report alleged that the state corrections department and officials at prison violated inmates’ constitutional rights by failing to protect them.
Several corrections officers at the prison have pleaded guilty or been convicted of sexual abuse and misconduct in recent years.
The report called sexual abuse at the prison “severe and prevalent,” and said a “culture of acceptance” has persisted for years.
Boxer served a six-year term as state comptroller beginning in 2008. He is also a former federal prosecutor. He currently is a partner at Lowenstein Sandler, where he chairs their corporate investigations and integrity practice.
It’s unclear how much Boxer will be paid.
The Associated Press