NEWARK, N.J. – Three Essex County correctional officers and one sergeant have been charged with conspiring to violate a pretrial detainee’s civil rights, Acting U.S. Attorney Rachael A. Honig announced today.
Officers Angel Chaparro, 38, Damion James, 40, and Luis Ortiz, 29, and Sgt. Herman Pride, 51, are each charged by complaint with one count of conspiracy to violate civil rights. Pride and Ortiz were arrested on March 4, 2021, and had their initial appearances before U.S. Magistrate Judge James B. Clark III. Both were released on bail. Chaparro and James were arrested this morning and will have their initial appearances by videoconference Judge Clark this afternoon.
According to the criminal complaint:
On the evening of Aug. 17, 2020, a federal pretrial detainee at Essex County Correctional Facility (ECCF) squirted a mixture of urine, yogurt, and milk onto a correctional officer. The detainee subsequently was transported to a disciplinary cell, where Chaparro, James, and Ortiz assaulted the detainee, striking him multiple times. Pride did not intervene to stop the assault. At the end of the assault, Pride said, “okay, that’s enough.” During the assault, James’ watch fell off. He and other officers returned to the detainee’s cell to retrieve his watch.
The detainee asked for, and was initially denied, medical assistance. The victim later told Pride that if Pride would provide the victim with medical attention, the victim would lie and say that he had fallen off his bed. Pride refused to provide any medical attention. Two days later, the detainee was finally taken to the emergency room at University Hospital in Newark. He was diagnosed with large swelling and tenderness in the right side of his face and discoloration and bruising around his right eye.
The defendants all were required to submit documentation regarding their use of force. None of them submitted any such reports. Instead, Chaparro signed a false report indicating that no force had been used.
Acting U.S. Attorney Honig credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge George M. Crouch Jr. in Newark; and the Essex County Correctional Facility Internal Affairs Bureau, under the direction of Director Alfaro Ortiz and the Office of the Warden, with the investigation leading to the charges.
The government is represented by Acting Principal Assistant U.S. Attorney Rahul Agarwal.
The charges and allegations in the criminal complaint are merely accusations, and the defendants are all presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.