A senior lieutenant with the Hudson County Department of Corrections has filed a lawsuit in Hudson County Superior Court alleging the unconstitutional treatment of a prisoner at the Hudson County Correctional Center as well as racial, gender, and age-based discrimination.
According to the suit, filed on July 5, Helen Ford, 59, has worked for the HCDOC since 1990. She is the senior lieutenant and one of only two African-American women who hold a superior rank, not to mention the oldest officer at the HCDOC
On Feb. 7, 2020, she saw a group of inmates being returned from visits with their families when one inmate was verbally abusive to the Hudson County Correctional Center Director Ronald Edwards as he walked past.
It was then, when Edwards, a named defendant in the suit, allegedly ordered the prisoner be placed in the “Restraints Chair” as a punishment.
“It is unconstitutional to place an inmate in the restraints chair for punishment; it is deemed ‘cruel and unusual’ punishment,” states the suit. “This is common knowledge among the HCDOC officers and is covered in training. The restraints chair is only to be used on a temporary basis when an inmate is actively a threat to himself or others.”
Knowing this, Ford objected to the chair’s use and the violation of the prisoner’s rights verbally and then circulated an email report regarding what she had seen.
Since raising her objections and reporting on Edward’s actions, the suit alleges that Edwards has retaliated against Ford and that the email report sent by Ford was deleted from the HCDOC server.
According to the suit, in February of 2020, Ford was then in charge of Training and Compliance for the HCDOC, but Edwards allegedly re-assigned the responsibility for compliance or inspections by outside agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Marshall’s Service to a white male lieutenant, though Ford successfully managed the inspections for several years.
Edwards allegedly told several of Ford’s coworkers that he intended to “get her out of the building” and announced that he was moving her office to “The Projects” – a derogatory name for a series of “dilapidated and rodent-infested” temporary buildings adjacent to the center.
Since February 2020, Edwards allegedly moved Ford’s office four times and allegedly assigned individual offices to white male lieutenants with less seniority than she has.
The suit states that Edwards allegedly stripped Ford of her responsibility to hold the keys to the gun-lockers in the center, and gave this assignment to a younger, white lieutenant.
In September 2020, Edwards allegedly removed Ford from her position as Training Officer and made her “Executive Officer,” a position primarily concerned with clerical tasks.
That same month, Edwards allegedly initiated an internal affairs investigation against Ford, which allegedly seeks her termination, using documents with allegedly altered dates.
According to the suit, as a senior lieutenant, Ford is automatically the Officer in Charge of the center when the captain is not on duty, but Edwards allegedly gave orders to the other lieutenants and sergeants in those circumstances “in order to subvert her authority.”
The suit alleges that as Edwards is an employee of Hudson County, the county is liable for Edwards’s actions and that retaliation against center employees “is so widespread, common and accepted within the government and institutions of Hudson County as to amount to an official policy.”
Hudson County is also a named defendant in the suit.
The whistleblower suit seeks a jury trial, compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorney fees, injunctive relief, and the costs of the suit.