ACLU Seeks Sanctions Against New Jersey DOC For Witness Tampering And Retaliation
Witnesses Describe Beating Of Female Prisoner For Exposing Corruption
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TRENTON – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of New Jersey filed court papers today requesting that the New Jersey Superior Court impose sanctions against the New Jersey Department of Corrections (DOC) for witness tampering, official misconduct and violations of court rules. The ACLU’s motion for sanctions charges that the DOC obtained false and misleading statements from women prisoners about conditions in the prison in an attempt to defend the prison against claims of inhumane treatment. A female prisoner who exposed the DOC’s misconduct reports being beaten as a result.
“Witness tampering is a serious criminal act,” said Ed Barocas, ACLU of New Jersey Legal Director. “The Mercer County Prosecutor should immediately investigate the allegations of abuse of power by DOC personnel and attempted fraud on the court.”
The ACLU asserts that James Drumm, Assistant Administrator of the New Jersey State Prison, offered female prisoners reductions in their disciplinary sentences in exchange for making false statements describing women’s prison conditions in the New Jersey State Prison (NJSP) – a men’s supermax prison – as better than they were. The statements were obtained from women prisoners held in NJSP’s women’s disciplinary segregation unit but described conditions in a different part of the prison where these women did not even reside. DOC officials then introduced the women’s statements in court. After one prisoner, Kareema Thomas, disclosed what had occurred to the ACLU, she was beaten by a prison guard, according to the sworn statements of Thomas and three other women prisoners.
This is the latest chapter in Jones v Hayman, an ACLU class action lawsuit against the DOC challenging the improper transfer of a group of women to the men’s prison and subjecting them to inhumane and virtual lock-down conditions. On February 8, 2008, the Department of Corrections offered into evidence in that case a letter written by Thomas as proof that conditions for the transferred women prisoners were adequate, even though she had never seen the unit in which the transferred women are held.
Although most women prisoners in New Jersey are confined in the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility in Clinton, women subject to “disciplinary segregation” have for years been held in a section of New Jersey State Prison known as unit “1FF.” The ACLU clients who were transferred to the men’s prison, however, are being held in a separate unit called “1EE.” Furthermore, none of the women in 1EE were transferred for violating prison rules – the usual criteria for disciplinary segregation – but were transferred arbitrarily to the men’s prison without justification.
“Mr. Drumm made it sound like if I wrote him a letter saying certain things, my time in segregation would be cut,” Thomas said in her sworn statement. Thomas’ account was corroborated by another woman prisoner to whom Drumm made the same offer.
Thomas alleges she was brutally beaten by a prison guard the day after she met with ACLU attorneys to tell her story, raising questions about whether the beating was retaliatory. Thomas says that during the beating, the guard said, “You have a big mouth” and called her a “nigger with no home training.” Thomas also alleges that, following the beating, Drumm told her, “You’re causing problems in my institution,” and that she should “stop causing trouble.”
In addition to seeking sanctions against the Department of Corrections for witness tampering and retaliation, the ACLU also charges that prison officials violated court rules by conducting psychiatric examinations of the women the ACLU represents without first notifying their attorneys, and under the guise of the examinations, extracted information from the women about the case. The ACLU’s request for sanctions also presents evidence of prison officials regularly reading confidential attorney-client correspondence and listening in on prisoners’ phone calls to lawyers.
“The Department of Corrections is taking a scorched earth approach to the civil rights lawsuit brought by these women prisoners,” said Mie Lewis, the ACLU’s lead counsel in the case. “The women deserve a fair hearing of their claims, and that means the Department has to obey the law and court rules.”
Sanctions sought by the ACLU include striking from the record all of the unlawfully obtained evidence; reassignment of the guard who allegedly beat Thomas; a ban on further evidence-gathering by James Drumm; and permission for the ACLU to further investigate the Department’s misconduct.
A hearing in the New Jersey Superior Court is scheduled for April 11, 2008.
Attorneys on the case are Lewis and Lenora Lapidus from the ACLU Women’s Rights Project and Barocas from the ACLU of New Jersey.
The sanctions brief is available at:
More information on the case is available online at:
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