2 local COs among 14 indicted in Mahan Prison incident

A state grand jury voted Sept. 27 to indict 14 corrections officers — two of whom live in The Observer’s readership area — who were charged after a January 2021 incident at the Hunterdon County-based Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women, in which inmates were forcibly removed from cells and some were beaten, leaving two of the victims severely injured.

Grand jurors returned an indictment against all 14 of the accused corrections officers on charges of conspiracy, official misconduct, tampering with public records and aggravated assault.

The two local men are Ryan Valentin, 44, of Bloomfield and Luis A. Garcia, 25, of Nutley.

The other 12 come from municipalities across North and Central Jersey.

Investigators say the incidents happened during the overnight hours between Jan. 11 and Jan. 12, 2021, at the facility in Union Township, in Hunterdon County, amid escalating tensions after several incidents of inmates squirting unknown liquids through their cell doors, striking officers.

Cells belonging to inmates suspected of being involved in those “splashing” incidents were targeted, in an action the NJ Department of Corrections refers to as inmate extraction. According to DOC policy, extraction should be resorted to only after inmates refuse orders to put on handcuffs and leave their cells on their own, or if they pose a threat to themselves or others and refuse to exit a cell.

In this case, prosecutors say, the officers planned to go into the cells and use force regardless of whether any resistance was encountered, and in some instances, they did not give the targeted inmates an opportunity to comply with orders to put on handcuffs and exit their cells without incident. In other incidents, the inmates complied with orders to be handcuffed and yet were extracted by force from their cells anyway.

One inmate was punched almost 30 times by one officer while being extracted by a five-person team, despite no apparent provocation or physical resistance from her, the investigation found. Other officers restrained the victim while the assault was happening, at times grabbing her hair or shoving her. She was taken to a hospital suffering from headaches, nausea and vomiting, and doctors found she had a concussion.

Another victim, after her extraction and despite complying with orders to be handcuffed, was covered with blood and her right eye was swollen shut. She was transported to Hunterdon Medical Center where doctors discovered her skull was broken around her eye. Boot marks were also discovered on her body.

The indictment alleges these officers planned, supervised, participated in or failed to stop “one or more forced cell extractions on the Restorative Housing Unit tier with the purpose of punishing, intimidating or terrorizing one or more inmates.”

They are also accused of facilitating, failing to intervene in and failing to report the assaults, as is their duty as law enforcement officers. Investigators allege internal reports generated about the incidents were false or misleading in an attempt to conceal the brutality and what led up to it.

The conspiracy charge carries a sentence of five to 10 years state prison and a fine of $150,000; official misconduct may carry a penalty of five to 10 years state prison with five years parole ineligibility, and a fine of $150,000. Tampering with public records is punishable by three to five years in state prison with two years parole ineligibility and a fine of $15,000.

Aggravated assault with serious bodily injury can carry a sentence of five to 10 years state prison, with a mandate to serve 85% of the sentence, plus a fine of $150,000.

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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.