Four correctional employees indicted in connection with assault of detainee

NEWARK, NJ — One Essex County correctional officer, two sergeants and one lieutenant have been indicted for civil rights violations in connection with the assault of a federal pretrial detainee, acting U.S. Attorney Rachael A. Honig announced July 23.

Officer Damion James, 41, was charged with assaulting the pretrial detainee in violation of his civil rights. Sgt. Herman Pride, 51; Sgt. Jennifer Whitley, 38; and Lt. Nicholas Palma, 46, were charged with failing to intervene to stop the assault. Whitley was additionally charged with submitting a false report to cover up the assault. All four defendants will be arraigned on a date to be determined.

According to documents filed in this case, on the evening of Aug. 17, 2020, a federal pretrial detainee at Essex County Correctional Facility squirted a mixture of urine, yogurt and milk onto a correctional officer. The detainee subsequently was transported to a disciplinary cell, where James assaulted the detainee, striking him multiple times in the body and face. Pride, Whitley and Palma allegedly watched the assault, but none of them intervened to stop it.

Two days after the assault, the detainee was taken to the emergency room at University Hospital in Newark. He was diagnosed with large swelling and tenderness in the right side of his face and discoloration and bruising around his right eye.

The defendants all were required to submit documentation regarding their use of force; none of them submitted any such reports, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. Instead, Whitley allegedly submitted a report falsely indicating that no force had been used. Officer Angel Chaparro previously pleaded guilty to his role in the submission of the false report.

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