7th official arrested in growing NJ prison rape scandal
UNION TOWNSHIP (Hunterdon) — Authorities have charged another corrections officer with sexually assaulting inmates at the state women’s prison
Ronald Coleman Jr., 39, is the seventh official to be criminally charged in the last three years. Even more officials, however, have been accused in lawsuits filed by inmates.
In a report last January, New Jersey 101.5 detailed the accusations against three officers who were fired but never charged. The Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office that month announced charges against four other officers and a civilian employee.
Since then, the women’s prison has faced further media and legislative scrutiny, more inmates have sued and more officers have been arrested.
In the latest case, authorities charged Coleman with seven counts of second-degree official misconduct, two counts of second-degree sexual assault, two counts of second-degree conspiracy to commit sexual assault, one count of second-degree pattern of official misconduct, and three counts of fourth-degree criminal sexual contact.
He was arrested Friday at this home in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Prosecutors did not release details about the accusations. New Jersey 101.5 did not know Saturday whether he had an attorney who could speak on his behalf.
In December, five women filed two lawsuits in Superior Court in Mercer County accusing the prison of allowing guards to sexually assault inmates with impunity. One of the lawsuits seeks class-action status on behalf of other victims, which the complaint says is at least 15 over the previous five years.
Last year, grand juries indicted Brian Ambroise, Thomas Seguine, Jason Mays and Ahnwar Dixon on charges of official misconduct and sexual assault. Ambroise was charged with five new counts in October after a second victim came forward.
Civilian instructor Joel Herscap was charged in 2016 with trading sex for cigarettes. He and Seguine took plea deals on the official misconduct charges.
In August, Joel Mercado was indicted on two counts of official misconduct and sexual assault after he was accused of having sexual relationships with two inmates.
Other officials have been accused of misconduct but were never charged.
In state and federal lawsuits, several inmates accused Erick Melgar of rape while another said she was molested by Jeffrey Smalls. The inmates, meanwhile, accused Janette Bennett of turning a blind eye. All three were fired between 2010 and 2011.
The lawsuits also accused now-retired warden William Hauck of knowing about the abuse as far back as 2008, which the state Attorney General’s Office denied in court documents that blamed the victims for not coming forward sooner with their abuse claims.
Last year Melgar, now working as a bar bouncer, paid $75,000 to settle claims by six inmates, NJ.com reported.
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