Allegations of abuse at Essex County Jail deemed unfounded by ECPO

NEWARK, NJ — Acting Essex County Prosecutor Theodore Stephens II announced Nov. 26 that the Professional Standards Bureau of the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, more commonly known as the Internal Affairs Unit, has concluded that claims made by two ICE detainees that they were abused while in custody at the Essex County Jail were not supported by the evidence.

ICE detainees Jose Hernandez-Velasquez and Wilson Pena Lojo alleged that they were victims of an unprovoked assault on May 17, 2019. Following an investigation by the ECPO, it has been determined there is insufficient evidence to support criminal charges against any Essex County correctional officers. 

Furthermore, according to the prosecutor’s office, evidence uncovered during the investigation contradicted the detainees’ allegations in critical respects.

Lojo alleged he was the victim of a sexual assault, yet he never claimed an act of sexual penetration or that a sexual act had occurred. Lojo did allege that he was struck in the groin. The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, in conjunction with the Internal Affairs Unit of the Essex County Correctional Facility, conducted a comprehensive and independent investigation of the events surrounding the assault allegations. The evidence did not support his contention, according to the ECPO.

Investigators examined evidence from multiple sources, including video footage and statements of officers and detainees who were present during and after the incidents. Both video footage and witness statements contradict the detainees’ version of events in crucial areas, according to the prosecutor’s office. 

The primary role of the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office is to determine if there is enough evidence to sustain a criminal prosecution against any involved correctional officer. However, the evidence uncovered as part of the investigation reveals that multiple portions of the detainees’ accounts are refuted by other evidence. 

Stephens said the independent and thorough investigation of this matter was conducted jointly by the ECPO’s Professional Standards Unit and the Internal Affairs Unit of Essex County Correctional Facility.

“We take any allegation of misconduct on the part of law enforcement seriously. All claims are thoroughly investigated. Ultimately, we go where the facts and evidence lead. In this case, the facts simply do not support any criminal charges,” Stephens said.