Five more defendants, including from Bloomfield and West Orange, charged in Edna Mahan investigation

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TRENTON, NJ — On Dec. 15, acting N.J. Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck announced criminal charges against Department of Corrections Associate Administrator Sean St. Paul and four correctional police officers — a major and three senior officers — related to an incident in which inmates were assaulted and seriously injured at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Hunterdon County on Jan. 12, 2021. 

A total of 15 defendants — comprising St. Paul, a major, a lieutenant, four sergeants and eight senior correctional police officers — now have been charged in the ongoing criminal investigation by the Attorney General’s Office of Public Integrity and Accountability and the Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office, with the assistance of the New Jersey Department of Corrections’ Special Investigations Division.

Between approximately 10:30 p.m. on Jan. 11 and 1:15 a.m. on Jan. 12, 2021, DOC officers and supervisors assigned to the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility conducted forced cell extractions of inmates located in the Restorative Housing Unit complex. During the cell extractions, members of the extraction teams allegedly used excessive and unreasonable force, violating DOC policies and injuring two victims. The 15 defendants charged to date allegedly directed or participated in the forced cell extractions.

St. Paul, 55, of Newark, was the highest-ranking DOC official at Edna Mahan on the night of the assaults, and is the highest-ranking person to be criminally charged in this investigation. Within DOC, the top-ranking civilian official at a prison holds the title of “administrator,” but the person who held that title at Edna Mahan was on leave during the Jan. 12 assaults. At the time, two officials — St. Paul and an assistant superintendent — shared responsibilities as the facility’s top-ranking officials, although it was St. Paul who was on duty on the night in question.

Also among those charged is Major Ryan Valentin, 44, of Bloomfield. Within DOC, major is the highest rank that a correctional police officer can obtain while working at a prison.

“We promised to follow the facts wherever they go, and that’s exactly what we’ve done,” Bruck said Dec. 15. “We are holding accountable everyone who was involved in January’s brutal assaults, from the line officers working the cell block to the highest-ranking prison official on duty that night. With today’s charges, we are making clear that even the senior-most leadership at Edna Mahan must be held responsible for their illegal conduct.”

“We will continue our investigation until we have charged all who played a role in these unconscionable assaults,” OPIA Executive Director Thomas Eicher said. “We are committed to protecting those in state custody, and that means prosecuting any officers or officials who take action to harm inmates or who fail to intervene against and report such conduct in violation of their duties.”

Bruck and Eicher urge anyone with information related to this incident to report it by calling 1-844-674-2847.

The following defendants were charged Dec. 15 by complaint-summons:

  • St. Paul was charged with second-degree official misconduct, second-degree conspiracy and third-degree tampering with public records or information. The complaint against St. Paul alleges that he approved, ordered and was present at the facility for forced cell extractions that were done in a manner contrary to DOC policy for the purpose of punishing inmates in the RHU. St. Paul allegedly failed to make proper notifications regarding the alleged use of excessive and unreasonable force, as required by DOC policies and procedures. He also sent an email to his superiors at DOC in which he allegedly falsely reported the facts surrounding the forced cell extractions by not revealing that unnecessary and unreasonable force was used against the two victims or that the victims suffered injuries, and by falsely stating that inmates apologized to him.
  • Valentin was charged with second-degree official misconduct, second-degree conspiracy and third-degree tampering with public records or information. The complaint against Valentin alleges that he approved, ordered and was present for the forced cell extractions. Valentin also sent an email to his superiors at DOC in which he allegedly falsely reported the facts surrounding the forced cell extractions.
  • Senior Correctional Police Officer Desiree Lewis, 33, of Elizabeth, was charged with second-degree aggravated assault and third-degree tampering with public records or information. The complaint against Lewis alleges that she was part of the team that extracted Victim 2. During the cell extraction, one team member allegedly deployed pepper spray without giving Victim 2 an opportunity to comply, in violation of DOC directives; instead the team immediately entered Victim 2’s cell to forcibly remove her. During the extraction, Lewis allegedly forcibly assaulted Victim 2, who was not resisting, or aided and abetted another officer’s unauthorized use of force upon Victim 2, as that officer allegedly punched Victim 2 in the head and neck area approximately 28 times. According to the charges, Lewis had a legal duty to prevent this unauthorized use of force, which resulted in Victim 2 suffering a concussion. Lewis also allegedly wrote a report that falsely reported the facts surrounding the forced cell extractions.
  • Senior Correctional Police Officer Brandon Burgos, 22, of Roseland, and Senior Correctional Police Officer Marika Sprow, 32, of West Orange, were each charged with third-degree tampering with public records or information. The complaints against Burgos and Sprow allege that they participated in the forced cell extractions of various inmates, including Victim 2. Burgos and Sprow allegedly wrote reports that falsely reported the facts surrounding the forced cell extractions.

Second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000. The second-degree official misconduct charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison without possibility of parole. The second-degree aggravated assault charge carries a mandatory term of parole ineligibility equal to 85 percent of the sentence imposed. The third-degree charge of tampering with public records carries a sentence of three to five years in state prison, with a mandatory two-year period of parole ineligibility and a fine of up to $10,000.

The charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proved guilty in a court of law.

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