Corrections Commissioner Marcus Hicks’ upcoming testimony before a joint hearing of the Assembly Judiciary and Women and Children Committees isn’t an indication of forthcoming results from an independent investigation into abuses at the state’s only women’s prison, Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday.
“As it relates to commissioner Hicks testifying, no indication of timeline or otherwise,” Murphy said of former State Comptroller Matt Boxer’s investigation into abuses at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility.
Hicks is due to appear before the Assembly committees on April 8. Those hearings will probe whether corrections officials complied with state law, including the Dignity Act, which required corrections officers be trained to interact with traumatized prisoners and banned the use of solitary confinement on pregnant persons, among other things.
The commissioner became an increasingly controversial figure in recent months after NJ Advance Media reported dozens of guards and supervisors at the facility in Hunterdon County were suspended after a series of inmate beatings.
One woman was beaten so badly she was confined to a wheelchair. Another was left with an orbital wall fracture.
The abuses at the long-troubled facility have spurred calls for the commissioner’s resignation from nearly every member of the State Senate, including all 25 Democrats, and a number of lawmakers from the lower chamber.
Murphy in January announced Boxer would conduct an independent investigation into the abuses on an expedited basis, but there’s been little indication so far of when the results of that probe might be released.
The lack of clarity on timing persisted Wednesday, though Murphy said a criminal probe by Attorney General Gurbir Grewal’s office was delaying the boxer report.
“I’ve used the word expedited. It’s a little bit tied up by the fact that the attorney general is also in the process of an investigation,” Murphy said. “That is a reality, but I’ve got no update for you there.”
Grewal has announced criminal charges against four corrections officers at Edna Mahan so far.
In early February, two officials — Sgt. Amir Bethea and corrections officer Luis Garcia — were charged with official misconduct and tampering with public records over an incident in which Garcia allegedly struck a pepper-sprayed inmate in the face 28 times. Garcia also faces an aggravated assault charge.
Bethea and a third official, Sgt. Anthony Valvano, were charged with official misconduct and tampering with public records over a separate incident in which they allegedly failed to stop officers beating a handcuffed inmate.
Later that month, state authorities charged corrections Sgt. Matthew Faschan with two counts of official misconduct and one count of tampering with public records for allegedly filing a report that falsely claimed he witnessed the handcuffed victim inflict injuries on herself and for failing to intervene in the pepper-sprayed inmate’s defense.
Grewal’s probe remains ongoing.