County corrections lieutenant sues boss alleging ‘cruel and unusual’ treatment of inmate, discrimination

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The oldest member of the Hudson County Department of Corrections, a Black, female lieutenant, is suing her boss and her employer after facing retaliation for “cruel and unusual” treatment of an inmate last year, as well as for age and race discrimination.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

“On or about February 7, 2020, Plaintiff encountered a situation in the jail involving
a group of inmates being returned from visits with their families. One inmate, Jonathan Hickson, was verbally abusive to Defendant [Ron] Edwards while he was walking past him,” the lawsuit, filed in Hudson County Superior Court today, says.

“Defendant Edwards ordered that Hickson 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. 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.”

As a result of the alleged incident, Helen Ford says in the suit that she verbally objected to this situation and later sent an email about it, which she claims has since been deleted from the server.

After speaking up about this situation, Ford asserts that she was the victim of retaliation from Edwards.

For example, she was in charge of training and compliance for the HCDOC in February 2020, but her responsibility for inspections with outside agencies such as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Marshals was reassigned to “a white male lieutenant.”

Additionally, the suit contends that Ford had her office reassigned four times while white lieutenants with less seniority than her received individual offices before she was stripped of her responsibility to hold the keys to the gun lockers at the jail.

By September 2020, Edwards allegedly changed her title from training officer to executive officer, a clerical job, around the same time he initiated an internal affairs investigation against her.

Her court filing also claims that Edwards made sure that she was never the officer in charge, including when there was an anti-ICE protest at the jail in January.

The five-count lawsuit alleges retaliation for reporting the illegal treatment of a prisoner, racial, gender, and/or age-based discrimination, “misconduct” by Edwards, and widespread mistreatment of jail employees.

As a result Ford, represented by attorney George J. Cotz, is seeking compensatory damages, punitive damages, injunctive relief, costs of suit and reasonable attorney fees.

A county spokesman declined to comment on the suit, citing a standard operating procedure not to discuss pending litigation.

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