NEW JERSEY – The Office of the Attorney General and the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA) announced Monday that a state grand jury has returned a superseding indictment against corrections officers involved in a Jan. 2021 incident at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women, in which, as alleged, inmates were forcibly removed from cells without justification, leaving two of the victims seriously injured.
The eight-count superseding indictment, voted on by the state grand jury on Nov. 17, adds charges of conspiracy, official misconduct, tampering with public records, and aggravated assault against Sgt. Matthew Faschan, 35, of Hackettstown.
The prior indictment against 14 other officers was returned in Sept. 2022.
“The State has a responsibility to protect individuals in our custody and our care,” said First Assistant Attorney General Lyndsay V. Ruotolo. “The allegations in this case reflect a failure to uphold that duty. We will hold accountable those who harm people in state custody, as well as anyone who tries to cover up illegal abuses.”
In addition to Faschan, 14 other defendants, who were previously charged in the Sept. 2022 indictment, were also charged in the superseding indictment:
- Sean St. Paul, 57, of Newark
- Ryan Valentin, 46, of Bloomfield
- Eddie Molina, 45, of East Brunswick
- Amir E. Bethea, 38, of Springfield
- Andraia Bridges, 46, of North Plainfield
- Anthony J. Valvano, 41, of Bound Brook
- Brandon Burgos, 24, of Roseland
- Luis A. Garcia, 26, of Nutley
- Courey James, 34, of East Piscataway
- Jose Irizarry, 39, of Paterson
- Desiree Lewis, 34, of Elizabeth
- Gustavo Sarmiento , 30, of Maywood
- Marika Sprow, 34, of West Orange
- Tara Wallace, 38, of Somerset
The 15 indicted officers, who have all been suspended without pay, include four sergeants, one lieutenant, one major, and an associate administrator.
All of the defendants were indicted on one count of second-degree conspiracy and two counts of second-degree official misconduct. Certain defendants were also charged with third-degree tampering with public records, second-degree aggravated assault and additional counts of second-degree official misconduct.
The incidents allegedly 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, in some cases striking officers.
Cells belonging to inmates suspected of being involved in those “splashing” incidents were allegedly targeted, in an action the New Jersey Department of Corrections (DOC) refers to as inmate cell extractions. According to DOC policy, cell extractions should be resorted to only after inmates refuse repeated 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 allege that the officers planned to go into the cells and use force regardless of whether any resistance was encountered, and in some instances did not give the targeted victims an opportunity to comply with orders to put on handcuffs and exit their cells without incident. In other incidents the victims complied with orders to be handcuffed and yet were extracted by force from their cells anyway.
The superseding indictment alleges that the officers planned, supervised, took part in or failed to prevent or report forced cell extractions that were conducted in ways that violated DOC policies “with the purpose of punishing, intimidating or terrorizing one or more inmates.”
The investigation revealed Faschan, who was previously charged by complaint-summons in Feb. 2021, was assigned to video record the forced cell extractions but purposely did not record certain extractions, failed to intervene to stop or prevent his fellow officers’ improper use of force, failed to report the improper use of force against inmates, and filed a false report about the source of one victim’s injuries. It is alleged that Faschan’s misleading special custody report was designed to deceive the DOC into believing that one victim’s forceable cell extraction was justified and her injuries were self-inflicted.
The conspiracy charge carries a sentence of five to 10 years in New Jersey state prison and a fine of $150,000. Official misconduct can carry a penalty of five to 10 years in prison with five years parole ineligibility and a fine of $150,000. Tampering with public records is punishable by three to five years in 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 in prison, with a mandate to serve 85 percent of the sentence, plus a fine of $150,000.