New Jersey’s attorney general has released 90 minutes of shocking video showing fully armored prison guards beating female inmates, pepper spraying them and dragging them from their cells.
The footage was released in 10 video clips on Thursday in response to public records requests after what authorities called a ‘brutal attack’ that played out overnight January 11 into January 12 at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Union Township, just two miles west of Clinton.
The graphic footage is the latest detail in New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal’s case charging 10 prison guards with assault on at least six women.
One inmate was allegedly punched 28 times, according to state prosecutors.
A report had previously described the incident as ‘a misguided effort by frustrated employees to restore order and mete out discipline’ in the prison.
Attorneys for the the guards charged have said they plan to plead not guilty and will fight the charges.
The videos show guards wearing helmets as well as chest, back and shoulder armor following a lead guard with a shield filing into the cells. Other videos show the inmates being pepper sprayed.
Warning: Graphic content
In the videos, five to seven fully armored prison guards are seen attacking women inmates in a New Jersey prison in January
One inmate was allegedly punched 28 times, according to New Jersey prosecutors
The women inmates were forcibly removed from cells, strip searched, punched and attacked
The videos have been redacted in some spots, including apparently to bleep out names and blur faces.
In some of the clips, it’s unclear what’s happening to the inmates because the cameras’ views are blocked by the guards’ bulky equipment and large number of bodies crammed into the small cells.
The inmates are buried at the bottom of piles, but their screams and pleas for help and mercy are heard.
‘Stop punching me in my face!’ one woman calls out.
One inmate told a nurse, ‘They punched me in my face.’
‘I don’t know why I was assaulted. I was just sleeping in my room,’ one inmate is heard saying.
While it’s the first time the clips have been made public, they reflect details brought to light in a June report commissioned by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and used as the basis for his decision to close the prison.
That report said the forced cell extractions amounted to a ‘misguided effort by frustrated employees to restore order and mete out discipline.’
It was during those removals that inmates were injured, the report said, with an inmate suffering a broken bone near her eye.
Among the findings were that guards used excessive force on inmates and filed false reports after removing inmates from their cells. The staff also failed to bar male guards from viewing female inmates during strip searches, in violation of policy.
That was captured in the video clips as well.
While it’s the first time the clips have been made public, they reflect details brought to light in a June report commissioned by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and used as the basis for his decision to close the prison
Among the findings were that guards used excessive force on inmates and filed false reports after removing inmates from their cells
In one clip where one woman is struck in the face, she tells the guards that she is not resisting, and then her chest is apparently exposed.
‘Hey, yo, cover my chest up,’ one inmate yelled.
‘Why is a man ripping my clothes off?’ another says.
In one video, an inmate is heard saying that she’s been punched in the eye, though the altercation is not captured in the video as the woman and the officers appear to be in a medical ward at the time.
At one point the inmate begins crying. ‘I’m hurt,’ she says. ‘My whole face, my head.’
In another clip a woman who is being removed curses and uses obscenities at the guards.
‘I’m not making nothing easy,’ she says.
Police rarely spoke in the videos except to say, ‘Stop resisting’
Prison guards used the opening to fire pepper spray into that opening if the guards felt the inmates weren’t complying with their orders
The officers rarely speak in the videos.
In almost all the videos, they’re heard telling the women not to resist, or that they’ll be taken to a ‘strip cell,’ where officers will remove clothing and search them for contraband, or that they’re being taken to a medical ward.
Grewal hasn’t given a motive for the alleged assaults, but the June report conducted by former state comptroller Matt Boxer suggested a possible explanation.
The report said in the days before the incident, there was ‘a coordinated effort’ by some inmates to ‘splash’ prison guards, a term referring to throwing liquids, including urine and feces, at them.
The fallout from the events depicted in the videos includes the resignation of the state’s Department of Corrections commissioner Marcus Hicks and led Murphy to plan for the relocation of inmates at Edna Mahan, as well as the shuttering of the prison.
But that could take years.
In total, 10 officers were charged with assault, which they have denied through their attorneys. They lined up like this before going into cells
The prison was also the subject of a 2020 U.S. Justice Department report that concluded officials failed to take action to stop widespread abuse despite being aware of systemic problems.
The release of the videos comes after a state Supreme Court order calling for the videos’ release and in response to public records requests, including by The Associated Press.
Their release also comes under 2019 guidelines established by the Office of the Attorney General aimed at promoting transparent investigations, according to Grewal.
The recordings include five recorded with hand-held cameras stemming from ‘forced cell extractions’ of five different inmates.
There are also five clips from a stationary surveillance camera in the hallway outside cells. Those videos don’t include audio.