A senior correctional officer at a scandal-plagued New Jersey prison for women has been charged with sexually assaulting an inmate, authorities said.
Tyrell Harris-McLaughlin, a 28-year-old corrections officer at the troubled Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women, was arrested Wednesday on charges of sexual assault and official misconduct in the alleged Sept. 16 attack, Acting Attorney General Andrew Bruck said.
The female inmate told prison staff days after the alleged assault that Harris-McLaughlin raped her, according to an affidavit of probable cause.
Semen was collected from the woman at a hospital and it matched Harris-McLaughlin’s DNA, the affidavit states. The corrections officer had “supervisory or disciplinary power” at the time over the female inmate at the lockup in rural Hunterdon County that houses about 370 prisoners.
“Anyone in custody is entitled to be free from sexual or other assaults,” Office of Public Integrity and Accountability Executive Director Thomas Eichler said. “When law enforcement officers assault and exploit those subject to their authority, as alleged here, we will ensure that they are fully investigated and prosecuted.”
Harris-McLaughlin, of Jersey City, joined the Department of Corrections in 2019, according to records cited by NJ.com. He reportedly did not have an attorney listed as of Wednesday afternoon.
Gov. Phil Murphy, who announced in June that New Jersey would shutter the women’s prison after a series of sexual abuse charges and violent raids by guards, blasted the latest allegations as “disgusting” Wednesday, NJ.com reported.
“This is tragically not the first [incident],” Murphy told reporters. “It has been building for two, three decades and it has been kicked down the can. We are not going to kick it down the can anymore. We are closing this thing.”
Murphy said in June he expected the closure to take years. The prison had already been under scrutiny after a federal report cited years of sexual abuse of inmates when a series of “cell extractions” in January led to charges against 10 guards and employees.
New Jersey’s corrections commissioner, Marcus Hicks, resigned in June, one day after Murphy announced he planned to shutter the state’s lone women’s prison. Months earlier, the state settled a class-action lawsuit with inmates for $21 million, covering 20 current and former prisoners who claimed they were sexually assaulted since January 2014.
Jeanne LoCicero, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union in New Jersey, said Wednesday’s arrest was “doubly shocking” since the alleged rape occurred as the prison was under scrutiny of the Department of Justice.
“This speaks to how deeply broken our state prison system is and how closed off staff members have been from public view and accountability,” LoCicero told the Associated Press.
Harris-McLaughlin faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted, authorities said.
“When those entrusted to serve the public are alleged to have violated their oath, we will thoroughly and objectively carry out our commitment to seek justice,” Hunterdon County Prosecutor Renée Robeson said.
With Post wires