Corrections officer accused of sexually assaulting inmate at women’s prison

Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck and Hunterdon County Prosecutor Renée M. Robeson today announced the arrest of a correctional police officer on charges that he sexually assaulted an inmate at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women.

Tyrell Harris-McLaughlin

Senior Correctional Police Officer Tyrell Harris-McLaughlin, 28, of Jersey City, N.J., was arrested today on second degree charges of sexual assault and official misconduct.

The charges were filed in an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA) and the Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office, conducted with assistance from the New Jersey Department of Corrections (DOC) Special Investigations Division.

The complaint-warrant filed today against Harris-McLaughlin alleges that on Sept. 16, 2021, he sexually assaulted the victim, a female inmate over whom he had supervisory or disciplinary power by virtue of his status as a senior correctional police officer. The alleged assault involved vaginal penetration and ejaculation.

In the wake of a series of rapes, attacks and other alleged abuse at the facility, Gov. Phil Murphy said he will shut down New Jersey’s only women’s prison.

At that time, the state released an investigative report prepared on cell extractions at the facility that occurred in January.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey and the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division concluded on April 13, 2020, that there is reasonable cause to believe that the conditions at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Clinton, New Jersey violate the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.

Specifically, federal prosecutors concluded that there is reasonable cause to believe that Edna Mahan fails to protect prisoners from sexual abuse by the facility’s staff.

“We are committed to holding accountable correctional officers who abuse their power and inflict harm on inmates,” said Bruck. “I thank the Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office, Office of Public Integrity & Accountability, and DOC Special Investigations Division for acting so quickly to investigate and bring criminal charges in this matter.”

“Anyone in custody is entitled to be free from sexual or other assaults,” said OPIA Executive Director Thomas Eicher. “When law enforcement officers assault and exploit those subject to their authority, as alleged here, we will ensure that they are fully investigated and prosecuted.”

“The Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office is committed to providing the highest standard of public service through effective investigations and prosecutions aimed at ensuring justice for all,” said Hunterdon County Prosecutor Renée M. Robeson. 

“When those entrusted to serve the public are alleged to have violated their oath, we will thoroughly and objectively carry out our commitment to seek justice,” said  Robeson.  “Our office will continue to work with the Attorney General’s Office and other law enforcement partners in our ongoing mission to create a safe environment for everyone in Hunterdon County.”

Second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000. The sexual assault charge carries a mandatory period of parole ineligibility equal to 85 percent of the sentence imposed. The official misconduct charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in state prison without possibility of parole.

The official mentioned that charges are merely accusations and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

Anyone with relevant information about this case or the defendant may contact the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability confidentially at 1-844-OPIA-TIPS.

When the Justice Department slammed the Murphy administration over sexual abuse at the facility, its report did not mince words.

“Sexual abuse cannot be tolerated in any setting, including in prisons and jails,” U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito said. “We have been encouraged by the State’s cooperation throughout our investigation, and stated commitment to ending sexual abuse at Edna Mahan. We hope to continue to work with New Jersey to resolve these significant concerns.”

“The Eighth Amendment of the Constitution guarantees prisoners reasonable safety from harm,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division said. “Sexual abuse should not be a part of any prisoner’s punishment. Our investigation found reasonable cause to conclude that women prisoners at Edna Mahan are at substantial risk of sexual abuse by staff because systemic deficiencies discourage prisoners from reporting sexual abuse and allow sexual abuse to occur undetected and undeterred.”

The Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for District of New Jersey initiated the investigation in April 2018 under CRIPA, which authorizes the Department to take action to address a pattern or practice of deprivation of constitutional rights of individuals confined to state or local government-run correctional facilities.

An August 10, 2021 consent decree resolved the United States’ claims that the state and the Department of Corrections fails to protect prisoners at Edna Mahan from sexual abuse by the facility’s staff in violation of the United States Constitution. 

Under the proposed consent decree, the New Jersey Department of Corrections was to implement policies and practices to ensure that prisoners are protected from harm due to sexual abuse through appropriate prisoner supervision; effective and confidential methods for reporting of sexual abuse; and protections against retaliation for reporting sexual abuse.

The consent decree included improved measures to ensure staff are held accountable for misconduct. It also requires greater transparency through public meetings with stakeholders, including former Edna Mahan prisoners, prisoner advocates, and family members of current Edna Mahan prisoners.

It also appointed an independent monitor to oversee and assess the state’s compliance with the terms of the proposed consent decree. If the state of New Jersey closes Edna Mahan, the consent decree applies to any facility that replaces the prison.

“Our civil rights investigation revealed systemic and long-standing deficiencies in training, supervision, and reporting at Edna Mahan, deficiencies that allowed the sexual abuse of prisoners to occur unabated,” Acting U.S. Attorney Rachael A. Honig said. “The state of New Jersey now has agreed to remediate these deficiencies by entering into this consent decree, and we look forward to continuing to work with the state and the Department of Corrections to ensure that no prisoner faces this kind of abuse in the future, whether at Edna Mahan or any other facility that might replace it.”

“Every prisoner deserves to be safe from sexual assault and other forms of sexual abuse by staff, and to be protected from retaliation for reporting abuse,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Our agreement addresses the systemic issues that have plagued the Edna Mahan facility, ensures that women incarcerated there will receive the basic protections they are entitled to under the Constitution, and requires accountability through public transparency. We will keep working to protect the civil rights, safety and human dignity of all prisoners held inside our jails and prisons, including women prisoners, many of whom have suffered physical and sexual abuse before their incarceration.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for District of New Jersey and the Civil Rights Division initiated the investigation in April 2018 under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA), which authorizes the Department of Justice to take action to address a pattern or practice of deprivation of constitutional rights of individuals confined to state or local government-run correctional facilities.

In April 2020, the Department of Justice provided the state written notice of the alleged unlawful conditions and remedial measures necessary to address them. The department concluded that there is reasonable cause to believe that Edna Mahan violated the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution by failing to protect prisoners from sexual abuse by staff.

Since Harris-McLaughlin allegedly sexually assaulted his victim on Sept. 16, 2021, it would appear that he did not get the memo.

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