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Gov. Phil Murphy. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe).

Murphy holding for investigation results before acting on Hicks

Embattled corrections commissioner faces calls to resign over abuses at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility

By Nikita Biryukov, January 29 2021 3:31 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy is awaiting the results of an independent investigation before considering disciplinary action for senior corrections officials who’ve been called on to resign in the wake of reports on inmate beatings at the state’s only women’s prison.

“The short answer is we need to know what happened,” Murphy said when asked why he had not put Corrections Commissioner Marcus Hicks on leave pending the results of the investigation.

Earlier this month, NJ Advance Media reported dozens of guards at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility were suspended for beating inmates. One was beaten so severely she’s now confined to a wheelchair.

The abuses have spawned a state criminal investigation and an Assembly Judiciary Committee probe on top of the inquiry Murphy ordered.

The latter probe will be headed by former State Comptroller Matt Boxer.

“I’m outraged by what happened,” Murphy said. “I’m sick to my stomach, but there are ongoing both criminal and now independent investigation which I ordered led by one of the smartest toughest guys in the state, and I’ve asked him to do it on an expedited basis, so let’s get this played out.”

News of the probes comes as Hicks becomes an increasingly embattled figure. All 25 Senate Democrats called for his resignation Thursday, and those calls followed others from the Assembly.

At least one Republican, State Sen. Kristin Corrado (R-Totowa) has charged Murphy’s investigation is meant to provide the governor with political cover as he gears up for his re-election race, but the governor again promised guilty parties would face punishment.

“I need to — we need to — understand exactly what happened, and if anyone bears responsibility, there will be consequences period,” he said.

The move is something of a departure from how the Murphy administration has handled removals for some other top staffers.

Earlier this year, the administration fired Chris Neuwirth, a former assistant health commissioner. Sources told the New Jersey Globe Neuwirth was fired because of poor attendance, though he later sued the state, claiming he was fired as a scapegoat.

The governor didn’t think the two were comparable.

“They have nothing to do with each other,” he said.

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