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NJ Correctional Employees Indicted In Beating Of Federal Detainee Who Squirted Liquid At Them

Essex County Correctional Facility (ECCF)
Essex County Correctional Facility (ECCF) Photo Credit: Stephanie Mastro (Googlemaps)

Four Essex County correctional employees were indicted by a grand jury on civil rights charges in the beating last summer of a federal detainee.

The indictment returned in Newark charges Officer Damion James, 41, with assaulting the pretrial detainee at the Essex County Correctional Facility, Acting U.S. Attorney Rachael A. Honig said.

Sgt. Herman Pride, 51, Sgt. Jennifer Whitley, 38, and Lt. Nicholas Palma, 46, were all charged in the indictment with failing to intervene to stop the Aug. 17, 2020 assault, she said, adding that Whitley also was charged with submitting a false report.

Another officer, Angel Chaparro, took a pre-indictment deal from the government last month, pleading guilty to filing a false report. It wasn’t clear whether the agreement requires him to testify against any of the others if their cases go to trial.

Chaparro, 38, told a federal judge in Newark that he and two colleagues were strip-searching the detainee when the assault occurred.

The detainee – who was being held pending a federal trial – had squirted a mixture of urine, yogurt, and milk onto a correctional officer, Honig said Friday.

James attacked the detainee in a disciplinary cell, “striking him multiple times in his face, head, and chest area,” Chaparro testified.

“Pride, Whitley, and Palma watched the assault, but none of them intervened to stop it,” Honig said.

Eventually, Pride said, “OK, that’s enough.”

The detainee requested and was denied medical aid, Honig said.

Two days later, he was taken to University Hospital in Newark with “large swelling and tenderness in the right side of his face and discoloration and bruising around his right eye,” she said.

The defendants all were required to submit documentation regarding their use of force but didn’t, Honig said.

Both Whitley and Chaparro submitted reports falsely indicating that no force had been used, she said.

Federal authorities, in turn, brought civil rights charges.

Honig credited special agents of the FBI and the Essex County Correctional Facility Internal Affairs Bureau with the investigation leading to the guilty plea, secured by Acting Principal Assistant U.S. Attorney Rahul Agarwal.

Arraignment dates on the indictment were pending, she said.

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