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Employees charged in N.J. women’s prison assaults now up to 15

The top-ranking official at the facility along with four officers were charged Wednesday

Edna Mahan

A sign is displayed at the entrance to the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Clinton, N.J., Tuesday, June 8, 2021.

AP Photo/Seth Wenig

By Joe Atmonavage

CLINTON, N.J. — The top-ranking official at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women on the night a group of officers violently extracted a handful of women from their cells has now been criminally charged for his role in the brutal assault.

Sean St. Paul, the former associate administrator of the prison, was the highest-ranking New Jersey Department of Corrections official at Edna Mahan on Jan. 12 when he ordered the cell extractions that led to multiple injured prisoners.

[Watch: NJ releases footage of cell extractions that doomed women’s prison]

The state Attorney General’s office announced that St. Paul has been charged with official misconduct, conspiracy and tampering with public records or information. It also charged four others Wednesday, bringing the total to 15 Edna Mahan employees who are facing criminal charges for their roles in the attack.

St. Paul, 55, of Newark, is the highest-ranking official to be charged in the incident, which led Gov. Phil Murphy to announce his intention to close the prison.

St. Paul’s attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“We promised to follow the facts wherever they go, and that’s exactly what we’ve done,” said Acting Attorney General Bruck. “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.”

According to the criminal complaint, St. Paul became aware of prisoner assaults on staff and arrived at the prison to address the prisoners, who reportedly were throwing liquid substances at the officers. He ultimately decided to order forced cell extractions of a group of women by a number of officers, in which the officers can be seen on video in riot gear violently removing the women from their cells.

One woman can be seen being punched by an officer in the head 28 times and suffered a concussion. Another can be seen fighting off officers as they tore off her clothes in search of contraband. A third woman suffered a broken eye socket and cheek bone.

Authorities said St. Paul allegedly failed to make proper notifications of the cell extractions as required by DOC policy. And in the aftermath, St. Paul allegedly wrote an email in which he falsely reported the facts of what happened by not disclosing the violent nature of the extractions.

Multiple women previously told NJ Advance Media that St. Paul was present for the attack and threatened more violence against them if they continued to act out. He had been on administrative leave in the weeks following the attack. His current job status is unclear, though the Attorney General’s office listed him as the former associate warden of the prison.

A DOC spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The latest charges also allege Major Ryan Valentin, of Bloomfield, was also present for the extractions and alleged that he falsely reported the facts to his superiors. He was also charged with official misconduct, conspiracy, and tampering with public records or information.

His attorney, Tim Donohue, said Valentin will fight the charges.

“It is truly unfortunate that the Attorney General’s office has chosen to file a complaint against my client based upon innuendo and unfounded speculation,” Donohue said. “Major Valentin will vigorously contest this charge and we will be vindicated once all the facts are heard. We look forward to our day in court.”

Senior correctional officer Desiree Lewis was allegedly part of the cell extraction team that pepper-sprayed a prisoner without giving her a chance to comply. The complaint says Lewis allegedly forcibly assaulted the woman, who was not resisting, and then aided and abetted the officer who punched the prisoner 28 times in the head.

Lewis, of Elizabeth, has been charged with aggravated assault and tampering with public records or information. Her attorney could not be reached for comment. Luis A. Garcia, the officer who allegedly repeatedly punched the woman, was charged in February.

The other two officers charged Wednesday are Brandon Burgos, 22, of Roseland, and Marika Sprow, 32, of West Orange, both of whom are facing one count of tampering with public records or information after they falsely reported the details surrounding the cell extractions.

Anthony Iacullo, the attorney representing Burgos, said his client maintains his innocence.

“Officer Burgos performed his duties on that day and every day to the best of his ability,” Iacullo said. “We are confident that when this matter is addressed in a court of law, officer Burgos will be exonerated.”

Sprow’s attorney, Matthew Troiano, also added that his client “maintains her innocence, and fully intends to challenge the charge against her in a court of law.”

Acting Attorney General Bruck said his office’s investigation is ongoing.

More: 10 COs at scandal-plagued NJ women’s prison have now been charged over inmate beatings

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