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Former New Jersey Prison Guard, Accused of Abusing Female Prisoners, Settles Lawsuit for $75,000

by Derek Gilna

Former New Jersey Correctional Officer Erick Melgar, accused by 16 women prisoners at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility in Hunterdon County of both physical and sexual misconduct from 2008 to 2009, settled his state lawsuit with a consent judgment in April 2017 for $75,000. Melgar, who was terminated by the Department of Corrections for his actions, nonetheless was able to avoid criminal prosecution.

            According to a review of the investigation, “At least 16 women claimed they were beaten or sexually abused by Melgar between 2008 and 2010. Seven of them have formally accused the officer of physical and sexual abuse in two lawsuits filed in state and federal court.”

            That investigation at the Edna Mahan prison, which houses about 650 women, also resulted in two additional officers being terminated for conduct unbecoming an officer, and found that the three worked together to permit them to abuse prisoners and avoid detection. The Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office declined to prosecute, reflecting the difficulty in bringing a case to trial based upon hearsay and relying upon the testimony of felons.

            Attorney Marc Haefner, who represented the women, said the matter was settled without a confidentiality agreement, so that the allegations would become public.

            “The case clearly was significant in terms of the issues it raised about treatment of inmates [and would] help set the parameters of how carefully the state should be following its own policies” in preventing sexual abuse of prisoners.

            One of the prisoners, who claimed that she had been abused by Melgar, Tasha Canada, said, “If any one of us females was being abused by our spouses at home, the police would lock them up immediately. So why is it different that he’s a so-called corrections officer?”   See: Afdahl v. New Jersey Department of Corrections, et al., Superior Court of New Jersey, Case No. HUN-L-46613

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Related legal case

Afdahl v. New Jersey Department of Corrections, et al.