Essex County Correctional Officers Indicted For Assaulting Federal Pretrial Detainee


NEWARK, N.J. – One Essex County correctional officer, two sergeants, and one lieutenant were indicted for civil rights violations in connection with the assault of a federal pretrial detainee, Acting U.S. Attorney Rachael A. Honig announced today.

Officer Damion James, 41, was charged with assaulting the pretrial detainee in violation of his civil rights. Sgt. Herman Pride, 51, Sgt. Jennifer Whitley, 38, and Lt. Nicholas Palma, 46, were charged with failing to intervene to stop the assault. Sgt. Whitley was additionally charged with submitting a false report to cover up the assault. All four defendants will be arraigned on a date to be determined.

According to documents filed in this case:

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 James assaulted the detainee, striking him multiple times in the body and face. Pride, Whitley, and Palma watched the assault, but none of them intervened to stop it.

Two days after the assault, the detainee was 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, Whitley submitted a report falsely indicating that no force had been used, when, in fact, Whitley, Pride, and Palma had watched James repeatedly assault the pretrial detainee. Officer Angel Chaparro previously pleaded guilty to his role in the submission of the false report.

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 indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty


Defense counsel:

Pride: Joseph Donahue Esq., River Edge, New Jersey
James: Joel Miklacki Esq., Passaic, New Jersey
Whitley: Ryan Magee Esq., Morristown, New Jersey
Palma: Michael Critchley Sr. Esq. and Amy Luria Esq., Roseland, New Jersey