New Jersey Prisoner Alleges He Was Subjected to a Fake Electrocution
The Newark Star-Ledger has uncovered an internal affairs investigation by the New Jersey corrections department, revealing allegations that in October 2009, inmate Javier Tabora was subjected to a fake electrocution while in custody at a specialized facility for sex offenders. Supposedly, the fake electrocution was a ruse conducted to frighten a second inmate (Robert Grant) whom officers were planning to question later that day. Prison officers don’t deny that Tabora was seated in an electronic chair (which is used routinely to search prisoners for contraband) but counter that they did not pretend to electrocute him. The IA report did not come down on either side of the he-said, he-said debate (unfortunately there’s no video of the incident, so it’s just the prisoners’ word against the guards’); the three officers involved in the incident pled guilty to various disciplinary infractions including conduct unbecoming an officer, and will be transferred to other facilities after a suspension period, but they are facing neither termination nor criminal charges.
Whatever the merits of Tabora’s allegations, another troubling aspect of the story is that complaint forms regarding the incident filed by Grant (the second inmate) were apparently treated by New Jersey as “threats”:
Officers told investigators they were questioning Grant because he was making threats against an officer, but the internal report concluded the “threats” were only the filing of “remedy forms,” which give inmates a way to express concerns. And, when pressed, no one could locate the “threatening” complaints Grant was accused of writing.
Deborah Jacobs, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, expressed concern that inmates were being discouraged from complaining.
“Respect for internal affairs and prisoners’ rights to address grievances is essential to the integrity of prisons and other such institutions,” she said. “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.”