For Further Information:
TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal today announced criminal charges against three suspended correctional police officers for their alleged roles in an incident in which inmates were assaulted and seriously injured at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in the early morning of Jan. 12, 2021.
The charges were filed in an ongoing investigation by the Attorney General’s Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA) and the Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office, conducted with the assistance of the New Jersey Department of Corrections (DOC) Special Investigations Division. Attorney General Grewal announced the charges today during a virtual press conference with OPIA Director Thomas Eicher and Acting Hunterdon County Prosecutor Michael J. Williams.
“Edna Mahan has a long, ugly history— one that has justifiably attracted scrutiny from county, state, and federal investigators,” said Attorney General Grewal. “That’s why we must do more than simply figure out what went wrong on January 11. We must hold the responsible parties accountable, and, we must fix the systemic failures that made this incident possible. I’m committed to using the full resources of my office and, with the assistance of the Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office, we will tackle this problem head on.”
“Our investigation into this egregious incident is active and ongoing, and we anticipate additional criminal charges,” said OPIA Director Thomas Eicher. “We will follow the facts wherever they lead us to ensure that everyone who participated in this alleged abuse of authority and brutal attack is held accountable. We urge anyone with information to call us at 1-844-OPIA-TIPS.”
“Correctional police officers are entrusted with great authority over the inmates in their custody, which can lead to great harm if they maliciously abuse that authority, as alleged here,” said Acting Prosecutor Williams. “We won’t tolerate such conduct. We’re working diligently to identify all who took part in these alleged crimes and make sure they are prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
Between approximately 10:30 p.m. on Jan. 11 and 1:15 a.m. on Jan. 12, DOC officers and supervisors assigned to the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility (EMCF) in Clinton, N.J., conducted forced cell extractions of inmates located in the Restorative Housing Unit (RHU) complex where 21 inmates were housed. One of the correctional police officers involved in the forced cell extractions was Luis Garcia, and two of the supervisors who were involved in and oversaw them were Sgt. Amir Bethea and Sgt. Anthony Valvano.
Garcia, Bethea, and Valvano were charged today by complaint-summons as follows:
Correctional Police Officer Luis (aka Lisandro) A. Garcia, 23, Nutley, N.J.
- Aggravated Assault (2nd Degree)
- Official Misconduct (2nd Degree)
- Tampering with Public Records or Information (3rd Degree)
The complaint against Garcia alleges the following conduct:
During the course of the extractions, Garcia purposely and knowingly attempted to cause serious bodily injury to a victim by using force beyond what was objectively reasonable and necessary in violation of DOC policy.
On Jan. 12, 2021, at approximately 12:07 a.m., a five-person suited team comprised of correction officers from EMCF performed a forced cell extraction of “Victim 2,” who was housed in the RHU. During the extraction, Victim 2 was pepper sprayed seconds before the extraction team entered her cell, at which time Victim 2 is seen standing towards the left side of her cell. Immediately upon entering Victim 2’s cell, Garcia punched and struck Victim 2 with a closed fist approximately 28 times in the face area, despite the fact that Victim 2 had her arms up, was attempting to cover her face to protect herself, and was standing pressed up against a cell wall with her back to the officers. DOC policy permits use of force that is objectively necessary and reasonable, and Garcia’s use of force against Victim 2 violated DOC policy and resulted in serious bodily injuries to Victim 2, including concussion and facial injuries.
It is alleged that Garcia knowingly submitted a false report regarding the incident, in which he falsely stated that Victim 2 “was throwing punches towards my torso” as he attempted to restrain Victim 2. Video evidence, however, shows that Garcia was punching Victim 2 when she was facing the wall and that she threw no punches at Garcia..
Sgt. Amir E. Bethea, 35, Springfield, N.J.
- Official Misconduct (Two Counts, 2nd Degree)
- Tampering with Public Records or Information (Two Counts, 3rd Degree)
The complaint against Bethea alleges the following conduct:
On Jan. 12, 2021, at approximately 1:13 a.m., video shows “Victim 1” in her cell in the RHU complex. While in her cell, Victim 1 appears to throw an unknown white liquid substance out of her cell into the hallway of the RHU complex. A short time later, video surveillance shows that Sgt. Bethea and Sgt. Valvano supervised a team of DOC officers who appeared outside Victim 1’s cell.
Victim 1 immediately complied with an order to place her hands through the food port of her cell door to be handcuffed. Victim 1 repeatedly asked officers not to harm her prior to their entry into Victim 1’s cell. Bethea was present during the extraction of Victim 1 and was supervising the actions of the extraction team along with Sgt. Valvano. He did not give Victim 1 an opportunity to exit her cell voluntarily, despite her submitting to the request that she offer her hands to be handcuffed and restrained. During the subsequent forced extraction, one or more correction officers repeatedly struck Victim 1 with their fists, although Victim 1 was handcuffed. Bethea did not intervene to stop the officers’ use of force, which violated DOC policies that only allow for the objectively reasonable and necessary use of force. Victim 1 sustained injuries during the cell extraction, including visible injuries to her right eye, which was later determined to be an orbital wall fracture.
Despite his presence at Victim 1’s cell during her extraction, and his observation of the extraction, Bethea failed to report the unauthorized use of force against a restrained inmate, who was not resisting. In a Special Custody Report completed and signed by Bethea, he stated that Victim 1 stated that she wanted to “kill herself.” This, despite the fact that no officers called a Code 66 or Code 53, procedures which are required to be implemented when inmates are suicidal or in the event of a medical emergency. Victim 1 denied threatening suicide and other inmates corroborate that she was not threatening suicide, but was asking not to be beaten up.
Bethea also supervised the extraction of Victim 2. Bethea’s report of that extraction states that Victim 2 refused all orders to be placed in handcuffs, and that he then deployed pepper spray into the cell of Victim 2, who was not handcuffed. Thereafter, Bethea did not give Victim 2 the time required by DOC directive to comply. DOC officers supervised by Bethea then entered Victim 2’s cell to forcibly remove her. During the extraction, Officer Garcia struck Victim 2 in the face with a closed fist numerous times. Despite Victim 2 sustaining visible injuries to her mouth and lip, Bethea failed to disclose Victim 2’s injuries in his report as required by DOC directive.
Sgt. Anthony J. Valvano, 38, Bound Brook, N.J.
- Official Misconduct (2nd Degree)
- Tampering with Public Records or Information (3rd Degree)
The complaint against Valvano alleges the following conduct:
On Jan. 12, 2021, at approximately 1:13 a.m., video shows Victim 1 in her cell in the RHU complex. While in her cell, Victim 1 appears to throw an unknown white liquid substance out of her cell into the hallway of the RHU complex. A short time later, video surveillance shows that Sgt. Valvano and Sgt. Bethea supervised a team of DOC officers who appeared outside Victim 1’s cell.
Victim 1 immediately complied with an order to place her hands through the food port of her cell door to be handcuffed. According to inmates, Victim 1 repeatedly asked officers not to harm her prior to their entry into Victim 1’s cell. Despite this, a cell extraction was undertaken, and five corrections officers and Valvano entered Victim 1’s cell after she was handcuffed and proceeded to forcibly remove her from her cell. Victim 1 was given no opportunity to comply, despite her submitting voluntarily to being handcuffed and restrained. During the forced extraction, one or more correction officers repeatedly struck Victim 1 with their fists, although Victim 1 was handcuffed. Valvano did not intervene to stop the officers’ use of force, which violated DOC policies that only allow for the objectively reasonable and necessary use of force. Victim 1 sustained injuries during the cell extraction, including visible injuries to her right eye, which was later determined to be an orbital wall fracture.
Despite his supervision of the extraction team, his presence in Victim 1’s cell, and his observation of the extraction, Valvano failed to report the unauthorized use of force against a restrained inmate, who was not resisting. In the Incident Report he completed, Valvano falsely stated Victim 1 was banging her head into the cell door and that her cell door had to be breached to prevent further injuries after she was handcuffed. The surveillance footage shows Victim 1’s face through her cell door window, and at no time does she appear to be striking the window, and none of the officers near her cell reacted in a way consistent with her banging her head on the door. No officers called a Code 66 or Code 53, procedures which are required to be implemented when inmates are suicidal or in the event of a medical emergency. Victim 1 denied banging her head against the door or anything else.
Second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $150,000. The second-degree aggravated assault charge carries a mandatory term of parole ineligibility equal to 85 percent of the sentence imposed. The second-degree official misconduct charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison without possibility of parole. The third-degree charge of tampering with public records or information carries a sentence of three to five years in prison, including a mandatory two-year term of parole ineligibility, and a fine of up to $15,000.
The charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.
Attorney General Grewal commended all of the attorneys, detectives and investigators who are conducting the ongoing investigation for the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability, Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office, and DOC Special Investigations Division. The lead attorneys are Deputy Attorney General Jonathan Gilmore, Special Deputy Attorney General Michael McDonald, and Assistant Prosecutor Kelly Daniels of the Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office, under the supervision of OPIA Corruption Bureau Chief Peter Lee and Counsel to the Director Anthony Picione.
Following the incident, the Attorney General’s Office deployed victim-witness advocates to speak with the inmates who were targeted on January 11 and to help them obtain the medical and psychological services they need. Attorney General Grewal also thanked those advocates.
Attorney General Grewal created the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability in September 2018 to combat corruption and strengthen public confidence in government institutions. In December 2019, the Attorney General issued a directive codifying OPIA and making it a permanent part of the Attorney General’s Office. That directive established the OPIA Corruption Bureau as the lead office within the Department of Law & Public Safety for the investigation and prosecution of state criminal violations involving corruption and abuse of public trust.
OPIA has a toll-free Tipline 1-844-OPIA-TIPS for the public to report corruption. The AG’s Office has an Anti-Corruption Reward Program that offers a reward of up to $25,000 for tips leading to a conviction for a crime involving public corruption. Information is posted at: http://nj.gov/oag/corruption/reward.html.
For Garcia: Robert R. Cannan, Esq., Markman & Cannan LLC, Bloomfield, N.J.
For Bethea: Undetermined.
For Valvano: Undetermined.