A corrections officer at a men's state prison in New Jersey has been arrested for allegedly assaulting and physically punishing inmates, including using a tactic described as the "fence treatment," the U.S. attorney's office said Friday.
John Makos, a 41-year-old corrections officer at Bayside State Prison in Cumberland County's Leesburg, is criminally accused of participating in a conspiracy to deprive inmates of civil rights and made an initial court appearance Friday, said Acting U.S. Attorney Rachel Honig.
According to court documents and statements, Makos and at least one other corrections officer allegedly established an ad hoc regime of physical punishments for actual and perceived violations of prison rules -- and meted out such punishments in a cruel and degrading manner, sometimes with other inmates' help.
He and at least one other officer are accused of using the "fence treatment," where one of the inmate's arms is handcuffed to a fence in the back area of the prison's kitchen and the other is handcuffed to a swinging door, as punishment.
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That made the inmate appear to be "crucified," according to Honig. Another inmate, allegedly working with Makos and at least one other corrections officer, would move the swinging door so the cuffed inmate's body expanded and collapsed while the officers punched the inmate's body with closed first, court papers allege.
The allegations cover a period from a least April 2019 through December 2019.
Makos and at least one other corrections officer allegedly tried to prevent anyone from exposing their behavior by leading inmates who worked in the kitchen to believe that they would lose those jobs and the income and other perks associated with them -- like access to better and more plentiful food items -- if they told.
“Prisoners are entitled to be treated with basic dignity, not pummeled and humiliated at the whim of correctional officers,” Honig said in a statement announcing the charge. “We once again affirm our commitment to uphold the civil rights of all persons, including those living in a correctional setting.”
Added FBI Special Agent in Charge George Crouch Jr: "A badge is not a license to abuse the power it conveys or to deny the civil rights of the people in one’s custody. It matters not whether the wearer belongs to a federal, state, or local law enforcement agency, or a correctional facility, we all bear the same responsibility to respect and defend the rights of those in our care. Let me be clear, the FBI protects and upholds the rights of all of our citizens. We will go wherever we are needed to weed out illegal activity and arrest the perpetrators."
The conspiracy to violate civil rights charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and fines up to $250,000. An attorney for Makos, of Millville, did not return calls for comment.
Makos was released on bail Friday and was expected to soon be suspended without pay.
NJDOC Acting Commissioner Victoria Kuhn released a statement saying her department has "zero-tolerance for anyone who threatens our mission of operating safe and humane facilities."
"We remain committed to investigating all allegations of abuse and working with the proper authorities to ensure justice is served," she added.
William Sullivan, president of the union that represents state corrections officers, says his organization is looking into the matter.