Assemblywoman Jean Stanfield introduced articles of impeachment against Department of Corrections (DOC) Commissioner Marcus Hicks Feb. 23 with the bipartisan backing of prime sponsors Assemblywomen Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37) and Nancy Munoz (R-21).
The move comes as the State Senate unanimously approved a resolution calling for Hicks to resign or be removed and a fourth correctional officer was arrested related to the Jan. 11 alleged beatings of female inmates at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility.
The articles of impeachment state Hicks failed to take reasonable measures to protect inmates from sexual abuse, considered cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and that he is responsible for violating the inmates’ civil rights and the public’s trust, among other offenses.
Need to Act
“As a former Burlington County Sheriff, I have always looked out for the most vulnerable among us. By letting this situation go on for years and keeping Commissioner Hicks in his leadership role, (Gov. Phil Murphy) has not,” Stanfield (R-8) said. “We can’t wait for him to wake up on this issue. The legislature must act.”
Since a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) report in April 2020 detailed years of sexual and physical assault by guards, the situation has only become worse as 31 guards were suspended after the Jan. 11 incident involving a woman getting handcuffed in a jail cell and severely beaten.
“We as a state must take a leadership role in ensuring dignity and safety for everyone, including those who are incarcerated,” Huttle said. “We have called for the resignation of Commissioner Hicks and this resolution aims to bring accountability to the DOC. Regardless, reforms are still sorely needed to address the systemic abuse within our system.”
Following the DOJ report, the state legislature held hearings, which Commissioner Hicks failed to show up for. During one of the hearings, a woman testified that a guard allegedly refused to give her toilet paper without an exchange of sex.
“Gov. Murphy and Commissioner Hicks have been given ample opportunities to make the necessary reforms to protect the women at the prison. My colleagues and I will not tolerate one more transgression,” Munoz said. “The Legislature is proceeding with the impeachment of Commissioner Hicks, because we refuse to allow the women’s cries for help to fall on deaf ears any longer.”
Munoz stated while she and Vainieri Huttle come from different parties, they are aligned in their belief Hicks must be held accountable.
“This is a bipartisan issue, and by working together, we will make sure rape and abuse at the hands of prison guards ends at Edna Mahan,” said Munoz. ”Valerie has been at the forefront of this and will not be silenced.”
The impeachment charge comes as a fourth correctional officer is facing criminal charges in a widening probe into the Jan. 11 incident. State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said the investigation was hampered by officers who lied and “attempted to cover it up by filing false reports about the incident, downplaying the seriousness of the incident and failing to document the true nature of the officer’s actions that evening.”
The latest charged is Sgt. Matthew D. Faschan, who was supposed to video record the forced removal of inmates from their cells at New Jersey’s women’s prison but is alleged to have helped cover up the coordinated beatdown. Faschan faces two counts of official misconduct and one count of records tampering, according to Grewal.
Previously, Sgt. Amir E. Bethea was charged with two counts of second-degree official misconduct and two counts of third-degree tampering with public records, Sgt. Anthony J. Valvano was charged with second-degree official misconduct and third-degree tampering with public records and Officer Luis A. Garcia, who allegedly punched one woman 28 times around the face, was charged with second-degree aggravated assault, second-degree official misconduct and third-degree tampering with public records.
The State Senate resolution—passed before the impeachment articles were introduce—calls on the Murphy to transfer inmates to a safe facility and demands the Corrections Department comply with the recommendations of the DOJ.
“Commissioner Hicks has blood on his hands and it is unacceptable that over a month after the attack he has yet to take responsibility for his failures as commissioner and resign,” said State Sen. Dawn Addiego (D-8), co-sponsor of the resolution with State Sen. Kristin Corrado (R-40). “If he will not resign, it is my hope the Governor will do the right thing and remove him, and move the inmates from Edna Mahan to a facility where they do not have to fear for their lives day in and day out.”
Corrado added “The unspeakable atrocities at Edna Mahan leave no doubt that it is time for the commissioner to go. It is a travesty that the Governor refuses to hold his administration accountable for failures.”
Move to Restore Trust
The state constitution starts the impeachment process in the Assembly, which has the sole power of impeachment by a majority vote of all members. The proceedings move to the State Senate, which is to hold a trial overseen by the chief justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court. A two-thirds vote of all the members of the Senate is required to remove the commissioner from office.
Corrado stated that until Hicks is replaced, it will be impossible to restore trust in the corrections system.
“Change must begin at the top. Those responsible for the conditions and abuses at Edna Mahon must be held accountable,” said the GOP Senator.