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

Two additional COs were charged with lying on official documents about the assaults on Tuesday

Protesters outside Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women

Heather Birmingham and Lisa Zittis gather outside Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Clinton, N.J., to protest abuse behind bars.

Keith A. Muccilli/

By S.P. Sullivan

UNION TOWNSHIP, N.J. — State authorities on Tuesday accused a lieutenant and a sergeant of lying on official documents about the brutal beatings of inmates at New Jersey’s women’s prison, bringing the total number of sworn law enforcement officers accused of assaulting women or aiding in the coverup to 10.

The charges are the latest development in a widening scandal at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women, which was singled out for violence, sexual abuse and exploitation of inmates by staff in a scathing report from the U.S. Justice Department last year.

They stem from a Jan. 12 incident, in which teams donning riot gear marched into the prison’s “restorative housing unit” and began forcibly removing prisoners.

Lt. Eddie Molina, 42, of East Brunswick, and Sgt. Andraia Bridges, 44, of North Plainfield, supervised the “extraction teams” sent to conduct prisoner removals from cells to search for contraband.

The pair “failed to prevent and report the excessive use of force and assaultive conduct by other corrections officers,” according to state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, whose office is leading the criminal probe into the conduct of prison staff.

As a lieutenant, Molina is the highest-ranking officer charged so far in the inquiry. His attorney, Steven D. Altman, declined to comment on the accusations.

Multiple inmates involved in the forced extraction told NJ Advance Media that prison administrators and medical staff were also present during the violent encounter. Grewal said in a statement Tuesday that the investigation is ongoing and more charges could follow.

“We are far from done,” he said.

The accusations against Molina and Bridges stem from the beating of two prisoners. Authorities have not named the women, but NJ Advance Media has identified them as Desiree Dasilva and Emmalee Dent after speaking with the prisoners and their families.

Charging documents allege Bridges looked on as one extraction team beat a handcuffed and compliant Dasilva as she cried in pain. Dasilva suffered a broken orbital bone from the attack.

Bridges’ attorney, James Pomaco, disputed the attorney general’s account, calling his client a 14-year veteran of the force with “an unblemished record.”

“She was involved in two extractions, which she did report. This particular one (cited in charging documents) she was not involved and did not believe she had any duty to report it and we’re confident that she will vindicated at trial.”

Molina is similarly accused of failing to intervene or report excessive force in the removal of Dent from her cell. State prosecutors claim the officers pepper-sprayed the woman without giving her appropriate time to comply with their orders.

“As she was removed from her cell, (Dent) is observed in video images with visible facial injuries and is clearly heard informing those present about her injuries,” the charging documents state. “Despite his presence during (Dent’s) extraction, Molina did not intervene to stop the officers’ improper use of force.”

The forced extraction controversy follows years of complaints from Edna Mahan inmates of sexual and physical abuse that have led to charges against dozen of correctional police officers.

The failures of state authorities to reign in criminal behavior by staff at Edna Mahan has cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, from a $21 million settlement over claims of sexual and physical abuse to millions paid to outside law firms and consultants, according to public records reviewed by NJ Advance Media.

The prison will likely face scrutiny from a federal monitor, pending a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice.

The January incident has led to demands for the ouster of state Corrections Commissioner Marcus Hicks.

After a contentious public hearing before state lawmakers, the prison system’s ombudsman, Dan DiBenedetti, announced he would resign.

Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, said he was “sickened” by the allegations and commissioned an outside investigation into what happened after details of the beatings became public but has said little of the incident since.

Grewal, the attorney general, has pledged to release video of the forced extraction, but has yet to do so more than three months after the incident.

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