Embattled state Department of Corrections Commissioner Marcus Hicks ran into the buzz saw questioning of state Senator Declan O’Scanlon (R-13) this week on the subject of body worn cameras by corrections officers.
Hicks was already trying to fend off irritated and appalled lawmakers who have called for his resignation in the aftermath of state charges filed in connection with the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women scandal. The entire legislature, in fact, has called for Hicks’ resignation owing to the cover-up at Mahan of overnight officer assaults in January, which seriously injured two inmates at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women. One woman was punched 28 times and officers used pepper spray and other types of excessive use of force in violation of official policy, according to state investigators.
Then he ran into O’Scanlon.
“Nothing personal, but the buck stops at the top,” said the Monmouth County Republican at yesterday’s Senate Budget hearing. “You mentioned that everyone at Edna Mahan is wearing a body camera at all times.”
Well, not exactly.
“We have 200 body-worn cameras procured – not all officers have body worn cameras,” said the commissioner. “We’re phasing [them] in. There are bandwidth considerations at this point. Not all 200 officers have them. We are implementing… every week more.”
“That is excruciatingly troubling,” said O’Scanlon. “When will they [be implemented for all]? How much will it cost?”
“Statewide or Edna Mahan?”
“We’re anticipating all 200 by fall of this year,” said Hicks.
“The cost is irrelevant,” said the GOP senator. “I’ll ask every member of the committee to join with me to push the governor for an emergency appropriation to get this done next week. It’s beyond my ability to understand and accept after everything we’ve been through that this fundamental way to reduce the likelihood of anything like this happening again wasn’t addressed within weeks. That itself is an outrageous failure of the administration. It’s unfathomable to me. I’m stunned the simple answer isn’t ‘everyone is wearing them all the time.’ It’s beyond comprehension to me.”
Hicks said the body worn cameras already deployed have have been strategic – to high-risk areas.
But his overall testimony fell flat.
“With all due respect, I think you failed,” said state Senator Dawn Addiego (D-8). “Do you really think you are a credible advocate?”
“I absolutely believe this administration is the right administration,” the commissioner responded. “I am a change agent.”
“We have to agree to disagree,” said Addiego. “These women deserve better. I am going to once again ask for your resignation.”
Addiego finds herself in a contentious battleground district, and Hicks is collateral damage.
In addition to ridding corrections of its sitting commissioner, Assemblywoman Jean Stanfield (R-8) wants to remove Addiego in the general election.
But she didn’t have the same real time perch as her BurlCo rival.
Last week, Stanfield – a member of the minority party in Trenton – complained that Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-19) denied her the platform to interrogate Hicks when he appeared before the Assembly Budget Committee.
“As Burlington County Sheriff, I oversaw a law enforcement agency for 18 years, and understood the way the members of my office interacted with the community came from my direction, example, and expectation,” said Stanfield, Republican candidate for senate in LD8. “Speaker Coughlin is blocking me from directly questioning the Commissioner for the same reason he is blocking my push for impeachment – he is doing Governor Murphy’s bidding by trying to silence me – and he should have to answer for it.”
Stanfield said that if she did have the chance to directly question Hicks, her question would be clear: ‘Why don’t you hold yourself responsible for the rampant abuse and misconduct within your own department, Commissioner Hicks?’”
Stanfield continued: “After the public learned of a horrific night of violence at the prison in January, Hicks suspended a number of officers, supervisors, and the prison’s administrator. Yet Governor Murphy failed to hold Hicks accountable for the abusive culture happening under his nose and allowed him to keep his job.”