Corrections officials routinely failed to properly investigate alleged abuses, the watchdog says. New Jersey Monitor

Corrections officials at three state prisons routinely failed to properly investigate alleged abuses in 46 cases, including at least two in which video showed officers assaulting inmates without any visible provocation. the state comptroller said in a report released Thursday.

The department’s investigators failed to interview witnesses 22% of the time and lost key evidence in 13% of the 46 cases that occurred between 2018 and 2022, the comptroller said.

“Often these investigations were not real investigations,” said Acting State Comptroller Kevin Walsh. “Some researchers were clearly just going through the motions. It is also possible that some used their positions to protect one of their own and avoid liability.”

Only two corrections officers were disciplined as a result of the 38 complaints investigated by the comptroller, which also involved a corrections officer.

Walsh’s office said a culture of silence among law enforcement, poor training of corrections investigators and shaky department policies contributed to the investigation’s failure.

It said the department should reopen the investigation into the two attacks, which occurred at Bayside State Prison, and examine the way investigators handled the incidents to see if discipline is warranted or if more training is needed.

The department should have an independent monitor to review the cases of its investigators, expand an internal audit that launched in August 2022, and increase transparency of its internal affairs investigations to boost public trust , Walsh’s office said.

Daniel Sperrazza, a department spokesman, said corrections officials have “worked tirelessly” to restructure the internal affairs unit, the so-called special investigations unit.

“Over the past three years, significant changes have been made to implement prison and cultural reform at all levels and units within the organization,” Sperrazza said.

Security footage from Bayside Prison in Leesburg released with the report shows an officer repeatedly hitting an inmate who made no visible provocations.

The officer claimed the inmate had threatened to hit him, but corrections officials never interviewed multiple witnesses who could have corroborated that, according to Thursday’s report. He was never disciplined, while the inmate was placed in solitary confinement for 30 days, the report said.

Separate footage from the same facility shows a corrections officer pepper-spraying an inmate, but also making no visible provocations. Disciplinary charges against the inmate were later dismissed and the officer was not disciplined, according to the report.

The comptroller’s investigators found little evidence of a thorough investigation. It is unclear whether officials even reviewed the facility’s security footage, and a corrections investigator asked leading questions of the officer that the auditor said seemed intended to exonerate him.

Corrections investigators within the Special Investigations Division also failed to properly maintain case paperwork, failed to interview officers, inmates and civilians who witnessed alleged abuse, and deprived inmates of a thorough and fair investigation.

In the case of pepper spray, the paperwork did not even include a description of the incident, just that a corrections officer had called an emergency code, Thursday’s report said.

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