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New Jersey Prison Guards Fake Electrocution

Three New Jersey guards accused of faking the electrocution of a prisoner at the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center in Avenel have been suspended. Sergeants Mark Percoco and Steven Russo received 105-day suspensions without pay following the October 3, 2009 incident, while prison guard Edward Aponte was suspended for 14 days.

Details concerning the faux electrocution were revealed after the Star-Ledger, a local newspaper, obtained a copy of a confidential internal affairs report.

According to the report, prisoner Javier Tabora was allegedly told by one of the guards to sit in a chair used to scan prisoners for contraband and pretend that he was being electrocuted. While he was seated, Tabora said he yelled and shook, and pretended “that electricity was coming from the chair.” He also put “cream soup” in his mouth and let it ooze out “for added effect.”

The charade was reportedly staged to frighten Robert Grant, another prisoner at the facility, which houses sex offenders (including some who are mentally ill). Grant had apparently been filing grievances complaining about certain aspects of his confinement. He told investigators that he saw a prisoner with “foam coming from his mouth” and then became “upset, nervous and shaking” when the guards placed him in the chair before questioning him about his complaints.

The guards denied wrongdoing, and internal affairs investigators were ultimately unable to substantiate the prisoners’ accounts because it came down to their word against the guards’ and there were no cameras in the room where the incident occurred.

Nonetheless, Percoco, Russo and Aponte pleaded guilty to workplace infractions of conduct unbecoming and violating safety regulations, and were transferred to other facilities in addition to their suspensions. Local prosecutors declined to pursue criminal charges.

“Respect for internal affairs and prisoners’ rights to address grievances is essential to the integrity of prisons and other such institutions,” said Deborah Jacobs, director of the ACLU of New Jersey. “The only way to create a silver lining to this tragic and appalling incident is to use it as a springboard for establishing grievance and oversight systems and training programs to ensure that nothing like it ever happens again.”


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