A - I n f o s
a multi-lingual news service by, for, and about anarchists **

News in all languages
Last 30 posts (Homepage) Last two weeks' posts

The last 100 posts, according to language
Castellano_ Català_ Deutsch_ English_ Français_ Italiano_ Português_ Russkyi_ Suomi_ Svenska_ Türkçe_ All_other_languages
{Info on A-Infos}

(en) Immigrants Tell of Mistreatment by New Jersey Jail Guards

From Tom Burghardt <tburghardt@igc.apc.org>
Date Fri, 6 Feb 1998 19:33:27 -0800 (PST)

     A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

     The New York Times
     February 6, 1998
     ELIZABETH, N.J. -- This week a multinational parade of
immigrant asylum seekers who had seen a federal detention center
ruined in a melee gave graphic accounts of what happened at a
county jail where they were held next. Testifying at a trial of
three jail guards, they said they had moved from bad to worse:
that guards at the Union County Jail had beat them, stuffed their
heads in toilets and squeezed their genitals with pliers.
     Speaking in halting English or through translators, the
witnesses talked of escaping religious or political
discrimination in India, Pakistan, Ghana, Albania and Romania,
only to find themselves hurt and humiliated in New Jersey.
     It was the first direct testimony of conditions in the
county jail by the witnesses, some of whom are living in the
United States awaiting rulings on their asylum claims, others of
whom have been deported to their native countries.
     Many spent weeks or months in the federal center, were
gassed and dazed by the melee that started as a protest against
abusive conditions there, and then, on the night of June 18,
1995, were shunted to the jail.
     Lawyers for the three guards on trial called the former
detainees' testimony an exaggeration and said their clients had
to work across a language barrier to establish control over
people who had been described as "rioters and hostage takers."
     The witnesses testified in a Union County courtroom against
the backdrop of a luminous mural of the Revolutionary War era,
titled "Coerced but Undaunted," depicting a stern-faced farm
woman feeding British troops. They slumped on the witness stand,
speaking in barely audible voices, often averting their eyes from
the defense table where the three guards, who are the first to go
on trial in the case, sat.
     "I stopped seeing, I stopped feeling, and I didn't know what
was happening to me," said Amitindar Pal Singh, who was 18 years
old when he spent three days at the jail, where he said guards,
in between beatings, used pliers to pinch the skin on his
genitals and to squeeze his tongue. Speaking through a translator
in response to questioning by Alan Silver, the assistant Union
County prosecutor, Singh said his injuries were not so much
visible as "internal ones that cannot be seen."
     Simion Fiat, a 32-year-old Romanian who wound up at the
federal detention center after stowing away on a ship to the
United States, told of the gantlet of jeering guards who met him
and others at the jail on June 18, 1995, and how the detainees
were kicked and pushed and made to crawl through the guards. By
the end of that night, Fiat said, he had blood streaming down his
face from beatings and kicks, adding:
     "I saw the officers talking lousy and not nice to us. Using
bad words. I didn't know much English then, but I understood that
they weren't going to treat us very nice."
     Still, none of the seven detainees who have testified so far
have been able to identify any of the three defendants as the
guards who abused them in the chaotic swirl of that night.
Prosecutors are looking to the testimony of other corrections
guards, who are cooperating in the case, to place the defendants
at the scenes of the abuse.
     The trial here of the three guards comes as a distant echo
of the five-hour-long disturbance at the immigrant detention
center here that was run by Esmor Correctional Services Corp. --
a disturbance that triggered a sweeping national re-examination
of Immigration and Naturalization Service policies on detaining
asylum seekers and contracting with private corrections
     The center was once called the "worst immigration detention
center in the nation" by a member of Congress, Rep. Robert
Menendez, D-N.J., and it was later determined that bad management
on the part of Esmor Corrections, as well as poorly trained and
abusive guards, led to the disturbance. The center was closed and
the company was ousted.
     Then a year ago it reopened under a new contractor and with
a host of new Federal policies that apply nationally to asylum
seekers detained by a host of private and public prison
contractors to minimize detention periods, speed asylum hearings
and provide for the parole of detainees.
     The case against the Union County guards over what happened
during the three days, June 18-21, 1995, the detainees spent in
the local jail will not be resolved for some time. The case has
split the county's Corrections Department as a dozen of its
guards have been indicted, largely on the grand jury testimony of
their fellow corrections officers.
     In addition, the county faces lawsuits by at least two
groups of former detainees, some of whom have been deported. John
J. Murphy 3d, a Cherry Hill lawyer representing 13 of the former
detainees in a civil suit, said that his clients' case was built
not only on the horror of what they say they experienced at the
prison but on at least two independent studies of the Union
County Jail over the last six years, which criticized conditions
and training at the jail.
     "You have to keep in mind that there were several hundred
detainees at the Esmor center, and they were sent to places all
over the region just after the riots, and this is the only one
where you had complaints of this nature and criminal charges of
abuse," Murphy said. "It would be very difficult for the guards
and the county to claim innocence in the civil case if there is a
conviction in the criminal case, but an acquittal in this trial
doesn't bar our civil case because the standard of proof is less
     The criminal and civil suits growing out of the incident
have split the community as well, some elected officials said.
There is "a great confusion of loyalty" said one, who spoke on
the condition of anonymity, noting that some consider the
detainees and asylum seekers outsiders who don't belong here.
According to this view, they got what they deserved.
     Still others who arrive in the courtroom to hear the
poignant and horrific accounts of some of the former detainees
leave sickened by the cruelty being described. Even though the
most serious injuries sustained were a broken collarbone and
numerous cuts and bruises, it is the seeming wantonness of the
abuse the former detainees said they suffered that stands out for
     Copyright 1998 The New York Times Company
                              * * *
  ** NOTICE:  In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107,
     material appearing here is distributed without profit to
     those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this
     information for research and educational purposes. **
     +:        A N T I F A   I N F O - B U L L E T I N        :+
     +:          NEWS * ANALYSIS * RESEARCH * ACTION          :+
        to subscribe e-mail Tom Burghardt <tburghardt@igc.org>
          ++++ stop the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal ++++
   ++++ if you agree copy these 3 sentences in your own sig ++++
  ++++ see: http://www.xs4all.nl/~tank/spg-l/sigaction.htm ++++

     ****** A-Infos News Service *****
  News about and of interest to anarchists

Subscribe -> email MAJORDOMO@TAO.CA
             with the message SUBSCRIBE A-INFOS
Info      -> http://www.ainfos.ca/
Reproduce -> please include this section