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Press Release

Passaic County Correctional Officer Admits Conspiracy to Obstruct Justice in Connection with Civil Rights Investigation Involving Assault of Pretrial Detainee

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of New Jersey

NEWARK, N.J. –A Passaic County correctional officer today admitted conspiring to obstruct justice in connection with an investigation of an assault of a pretrial detainee, U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger announced.

Officer Lorenzo Bowden, 39, pleaded guilty today before U.S. District Judge Michael E. Farbiarz in Newark federal court to an information charging him with conspiracy to obstruct justice.

“Lorenzo Bowden, a correctional officer, admitted today that he helped transport a detainee to an area where there were no video cameras and stood by while other officers repeatedly hit and assaulted the handcuffed detainee who posed no threat. The vast majority of law enforcement officers understand the trust placed in them by our community when they wear the badge. But when law enforcement officers abuse the trust the community places in them – when they violate the constitutional rights of the people of New Jersey, including prisoners, they will be held accountable.”

U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger

“There are methods to hold accountable suspected criminals who act out while in custody,” FBI – Newark Special Agent in Charge Hames E. Dennehy said. “Corrections officers know these procedures and policies. Instead of following those rules, Bowden admits he and his co-conspirators took matters into their own hands and then decided to lie about it. As law enforcement, we must live up to a higher standard of behavior because of the legal and physical power we wield.” 

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

On Jan. 22, 2021, a pretrial detainee at the Passaic County Jail (PCJ) squirted a mixture containing urine onto a correctional officer. The following day Bowden admitted that he, along with Sergeant Jose Gonzalez and Sergeant Donald Vinales, who were also charged in this case, transported the detainee through an area of the PCJ that does not have a video surveillance camera, which correctional officers and inmates at the PCJ have referred to as a “blind spot.” Gonzalez and Vinales assaulted the detainee, as he was handcuffed, when they knocked him to the ground and struck him multiple times. Bowden later admitted that he did not intervene to stop the assault. One day after the assault, the detainee was taken to a local hospital, which documented injuries from the assault.

In April 2022, after receiving federal grand jury subpoenas in connection with this investigation, Gonzalez, Vinales, and Bowden, among others, met to discuss the federal investigation. The group agreed not to cooperate with the federal investigation and also agreed to say that nothing had happened to the detainee (referring to the assault). During an interview with federal investigators in October 2022, Bowden falsely stated that the detainee had not been assaulted and that there had not been any meeting or communication among those who participated in or witnessed the assault.

The charge of conspiracy to obstruct justice carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. Bowden’s sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 5, 2024.

U.S. Attorney Sellinger credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge James E. Dennehy in Newark; and the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office Division of Internal Affairs, under the direction of Acting Sheriff Gary F. Giardina, with the investigation leading to today’s guilty plea.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin Levin of the Criminal Division and the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Civil Rights Task Force, and R. Joseph Gribko, Deputy Chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Civil Rights Division.

The charges and allegations against Sergeants Gonzalez and Vinales, which are still pending, are merely accusations, and each defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Updated April 18, 2024

Civil Rights
Press Release Number: 24-139