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3 male guards charged in violent attack at women's prison in New Jersey

Three guards at a New Jersey women's prison have been charged in connection with a violent attack on inmates last month, the state's attorney general announced Thursday.

On January 11, prison guards removed inmates from their cells and allegedly attacked them at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility in Clifton, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in a statement. More than 20 officers were placed on administrative leave as officials investigated allegations of violence, a union official said.

"Edna Mahan has a long, ugly history - one that has justifiably attracted scrutiny from county, state, and federal investigators," Grewal said Thursday. "We must hold the responsible parties accountable, and we must fix the systemic failures that made this incident possible."

Luis Garcia, a correctional police officer, was charged with second-degree assault, official misconduct, and filing a false report. Garcia's accused of pepper-spraying an inmate, removing her from her cell and punching her in the face 28 times, which resulted in serious injuries, according to Grewal.

Garcia is also accused of falsely reporting that the inmate threw punches at his torso when he tried to restrain her. However, Grewal said video evidence revealed she did not throw any punches.

Two supervisors — Sargeant Amir Bethea and Sargeant Anthony Valvano — were both charged with official misconduct as well as covering up the alleged assault. Bethea supervised both the previous attack and a separate incident where officers allegedly punched a woman while removing her from her cell, despite complying with the officers' requests, according to Grewal. Bethea is also accused of failing to disclose the inmate's injuries. 

Valvano is accused of failing to intervene during the use of force, while also failing to report it, Grewal said. He also allegedly filed a false report saying a victim injured herself by banging her head into her cell, which she denies, Grewal said.

The investigation into the January 11 incident is ongoing. Officials said they expect to announce additional criminal charges as the probe continues.

William Sullivan, president of the union representing officers at the prison, said the union does not "condone any unprofessional conduct."

"While a review of the allegations lodged against the officers are disturbing, P.B.A. #105 fully supports a thorough investigation being conducted regarding the incidents at issue before any judgments are made pertaining to the allegations or the officers charged in connection therewith," Sullivan said in a statement.

Last year, a Department of Justice report alleged that guards routinely sexually assaulted women inmates at the prison. From October 2016 to November 2019, five employees pled guilty to the sexual abuse of more than 10 women, which prosecutors said was enabled through a culture that discouraged inmates from reporting abuse.

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